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Defence Of The Realm

Volume 360: debated on Thursday 9 May 1940

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Government Proposals

26.

asked the Home Secretary whether he has now completed his review of the question of additional powers for dealing with possible dangers from enemy agents or evilly disposed persons, and from organised attempts to weaken the resolution of the people to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion; and whether he has any statement to make?

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the leave of the House, I propose to make a statement on this subject at the end of Questions. Perhaps my hon. Friend will await that statement.

At the end of Questions:

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I propose to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a full statement on the matters raised in Question No. 26 by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss). It may be for the convenience of hon. Members, however, if I give now a short summary of that statement.

I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to supplement the powers conferred by the existing law for dealing with possible dangers of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers: and following consultations which I have had with hon. Members of various parties, Orders-in-Council amending the Defence Regulations have been made this morning and will be laid to-day before both Houses of Parliament. Copies of the new Regulations will be available in the Vote Office during the course of the day, but hon. Members may like to have a brief indication now of the subjects covered.

First, as regards possible dangers from enemy agents and evilly-disposed persons, the Government have decided to make four amendments of the law which will strengthen the hands of the authorities in dealing with any possible attempt by the: enemy to undermine resistance to any attack upon this country. There is already power to intern enemy aliens; and power has now been taken to intern non-enemy aliens who would ordinarily be deported but cannot be deported to their own country by reason of circumstances arising from the war. Provision has been made for control over the entry into this country of persons repatriated from enemy territory who, though technically British subjects, have no close association with British interests: power has been taken to detain these persons, where it is thought necessary, pending inquiries into their bona fides. Regulation 18B of the Defence Regulations has been amended so as to enable the Secretary of State to direct that a person to whom the regulation applies may as an alternative to internment be required to reside within a specified area and not travel outside it without permission. Fouthly, a Bill will be introduced to-day providing for the imposition of the death penalty in grave cases of espionage and sabotage.

The second group of Regulations is designed to check the spread of propaganda calculated to undermine the resolution of the people to prosecute the war to a successful issue. These Regulations have been very carefully drawn so as to avoid penalising the mere expression of opinions while at the same time giving full power to deal with mischievous activities directed towards impeding the war effort of the nation. The main Regulation provides that, if the Secretary of State is satisfied that any person or organisation is concerned in the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue and that serious mischief may be caused thereby, he may cause a formal warning to be given that if such activities are persisted in the persons responsible will become liable to proceedings; and if any person or organisation so warned subsequently publishes matter calculated to foment such opposition those responsible are liable to a sentence of penal servitude for seven years or a fine of £500 or both.

A second Regulation extends the scope of Defence Regulation 39A so as to make it an offence to endeavour to incite men who are liable to military service to evade their duties, or to endeavour to incite persons to abstain from enrolling voluntarily in any of the the defence services. Finally, a new Regulation has been made empowering the Secretary of State to direct that no further use shall be made, pending an application to the High Court, of any printing press which has been used for the production of documents published in contravention of the Regulations dealing with illegal propaganda.

These new powers will materially strengthen the hands of the authorities in dealing with the dangers to which my hon. Friend has referred; I am satisfied that these powers are necessary to meet situations with which we may be faced; and I trust that the action which the Government have taken will command support in all quarters of the House.

From what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I take it that the consultations with Members of this House on the subject-matter of these regulations in no way implies that those Members either approve or disapprove of the Regulations; and that they are necessarily passed on the sole responsibility of the Government?

Yes, Sir. While I am grateful to those hon. Members who have been good enough to enter into consultation with my colleagues and myself before these Regulations were framed, I wish to make it perfectly clear that the Government take sole responsibility for the Regulations in the form in which they appear.

Did the right hon. Gentleman consult all parties in the House, even the minority parties who are most likely to be affected? If not, will he say why he did not consult with these minority parties who are entitled to have an opportunity to express their views?

I consulted with representatives of the parties who were taken into formal consultation at a previous stage when the Regulations were under revision. I did, as a matter of fact, address a communication to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) which was designed to give him, if he thought fit, an opportunity to see me with any of his colleagues, but owing to circumstances of which I am not precisely aware but which I can conjecture, that letter did not elicit any reply.

I am aware of that, but I have been in the House for some time and no consultation has taken place with me. Minorities parties, no matter how small they are, are surely entitled to the protection of the Official Opposition? As far as we are concerned we have no part in the Regulations and shall oppose them.

In framing these regulations did my right hon. Friend have in mind the experience recently suffered by other countries as a result of enemy action; and does he agree that the whole country is likely to support action which shows that a democracy which is defending itself must guard against the enemies in its midst?

While I should be sorry to think that the circumstances in this country were exactly comparable to circumstances elsewhere, the Government had certainly in mind in framing these regulations the dangers to which the country may be exposed and against which it is entirely proper and very necessary to guard.

Can the Home Secretary give the names of those with whom he actually consulted? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide. Secondly, were these the actual proposals which were known to the representatives and, thirdly, shall we have an opportunity of debating them?

The regulations are in substance identical with the suggestions which were put before the conference. As to the composition of the conference, I would have no objection whatever to the names being published, but I do not think it is for me here and now to say before I have communicated with them. I have consulted the representatives who were nominated by the leaders of the parties concerned. In regard to the third point, the Regulations which have been made will be laid to-day and the question whether they should be debated or not depends on our recognised procedure.

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep a close eye on the insidious doctrine which is known as "Moral Disarmament," which has done so much damage in Scandinavia, America and elsewhere?

May I ask that the right hon. Gentleman when he gets these powers will not hesitate to use them to the full?

Will there be any attempt made to give a definition of what is meant by the very loosely worded phrase "opposing the national war effort," because it is very desirable that the working classes of this country, who were not taken into consultation in connection with the war, should have the right to oppose the war and take legitimate measures to change the Government and get a Government which will work for peace instead of for the spread of war? Will there be any effort made to provide a definition of this very loosely worded phrase?

Perhaps the hon. Member will wait until he has seen the Regulations. Every effort has been made to define the purpose of the Regulations in as precise terms as possible.

Will the Home Secretary note that the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) is wrong in his definition? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that no action is contemplated by the Regulations which will have the effect of stultifying the efforts for Moral Rearmament?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is in this country a minority who are honest and clean and who oppose the war, and that under these Regulations there is power to punish people whose opinions are as honest and as clean as those of people who hold the majority view?

There is no question of punishing people who honestly express minority opinions. The purpose of the Regulations is to deal with activities which may constitute a grave danger to the State.

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to take retrospective action; that is in relation to retrospective documents or speeches which have been made in the past?

There is no provision in the regulations for dealing retrospectively.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the powers he proposes to take will be adequate to deal not only with people who take part in subversive activities but with those who employ them?

Following is the full statement:

In a statement which I made on 25th April in reply to Questions by my hon. Friend the senior Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) and other Members, I said that I was considering whether it was desirable that the existing law should be strengthened in some respects for the purpose of checking activities specifically directed towards impeding the war effort of the nation. After a careful review of all the circumstances, I came to the conclusion that, in view of the situation with which we may be faced, it is necessary that further powers should be taken to enable the responsible authorities to deal more effectively with subversive activities of this kind. During the last two weeks I have had the advantage of consultations with the Law Officers of the Crown and with hon. Members representing various parties in the House; and as a result of those consultations I think I can say that the measures now to be introduced are such as will command wide support in this House. While the Government itself takes full responsibility for these measures, every effort has been made to take account of the views of Members of all parties and I believe that public opinion in this country will recognise that the additional powers which are now to be taken are in no way disproportionate to our present circumstances.

The new measures fall into two groups, and I will first describe those which are designed to deal with possible dangers from enemy agents or persons in this country who might be willing to act as such. With the example before our eyes of the treachery which facilitated the German seizure of strategic points in Norway, it was only prudent—however different our circumstances may be—that we should consider whether any further powers were required to deal with any possible attempt by the enemy to undermine resistance to any attack upon this country. Our main guarantee against such dangers lies in unceasing vigilance by all the authorities responsible for national defence, and that vigilance will not be relaxed; but the hands of the authorities could be strengthened if their existing powers were supplemented in certain respects and new Regulations have been made for this purpose.

First, power has been taken to amend the Aliens Order so as to provide that, if an alien who would normally be deported cannot be deported to his country of origin by reason of circumstances arising from the war, he may be interned if the Secretary of State is satisfied that his detention is necessary in the interests of national security. Ample power to intern enemy aliens is already available; but a non-enemy alien cannot at present be interned unless he comes within the scope of Defence Regulation 18B as a person of hostile origin or associations or as having been concerned in acts prejudicial to the public safety. There is no power to intern the non-enemy alien who would in time of peace be deported because he is unreliable and an undesirable resident. A proper control of such persons is very necessary at the present time.

Secondly, provision has been made to enable the authorities to exercise due control over persons of British nationality returning to this country from Germany or from territory in the occupation of the enemy. A certain number of persons possessing British nationality are now being repatriated to this country from Germany and some of these may be only technically British and may have no close association with this country. Some may be women of German origin who have acquired British nationality by marriage, others may be foreign-born children of British parents resident for many years in enemy territory. While there is at present no reason to believe that any large proportion of these people are ill-disposed towards the British cause, it is only prudent that there should be power to keep such persons under control while any necessary inquiries are being made about them, and provision has therefore been made to enable the authorities at the ports to detain them on arrival, where necessary, or to require them to keep the police notified of their whereabouts, pending inquiries into their bona fides.

Thirdly, a small but valuable addition has been made to the powers of control exercisable under Regulation 18B in cases where it is thought unnecessary actually to intern a person who is of hostile origin or associations or has been concerned in acts prejudicial to the interests of national security. The Regulation has been amended so as to enable the Secretary of State, instead of interning the suspected person in such a case, to require him to reside within a specified area and not to travel outside the area without permission.

Finally, I should add in this connection that a Bill is being introduced to-day to enable the death penalty to be exacted in grave cases of espionage or sabotage. Regulation 2A of the Defence Regulations already makes it an offence, punishable by penal servitude for life, to do with intent to assist the enemy any act which is likely to assist the enemy or to prejudice the public safety, the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war. This Regulation is drawn in such terms as to cover a wide variety of mischievous activities undertaken with intent to assist the enemy; but for certain offences of quite exceptional gravity which involve a clear element of treachery the death penalty should be available. The Bill which has been introduced to-day provides that a person may be sentenced to death if, with intent to help the enemy, he does, or attempts or conspires with any other person to do, any act which is designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy or to impede such operations of His Majesty's Forces or to endanger life. In practically every case treachery of this kind would constitute an offence under the existing law of treason, but it has been thought advisable to make these treacherous activities separately punishable under an emergency measure valid only for the duration of the war which will obviate the necessity of complying with all the special forms and dignities of a treason trial and will also provide that the sentence of death may in certain circumstances be carried out by shooting instead of hanging.

The second group of Regulations is concerned with the activities of individuals and organisations who, by spreading defeatist or anti-war propaganda, are seeking to undermine public morale and to weaken the resolution of the people to prosecute the war to a successful issue. As I said in my reply to Questions on 25th April, there is a risk that our traditional reluctance to limit the free expression of minority opinions may be exploited by persons whose real purpose is to hamper, for ulterior motives, the war effort of the nation. The Defence Regulations introduced on the outbreak of war included stringent provisions dealing with propaganda, under which it would have been an offence for any person to endeavour to influence public opinion in a manner likely to be prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war; but after the Debate on the Regulations which took place in this House on 31st October last there was a drastic curtailment of those provisions of the Regulations which had attracted special opposition on the ground that they were capable of being used for the suppression of minority opinions. The Government are anxious to avoid any unnecessary interference with our traditional liberties, but they feel that a distinction can and must now be drawn between the mere expression of honest opinion on the one hand and, on the other, the deliberate and systematic advocacy of defeatist or antiwar policies with intent to weaken the national resolution to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion.

Legal provisions on this subject must necessarily be cast in somewhat general terms if they are to cover all forms of propagandist activity which are prejudicial to the national interests; and the difficulty has always been to find a form of words which will suffice to check the really mischievous activities without at the same time penalising expressions of opinion, with which we should all desire to avoid interference, however much we may disagree with the opinion expressed. The consultations which I have held have led me to the conclusion that this point cannot be fully met except by giving, to a responsible Minister answerable to Parliament, an administrative discretion to determine in what cases individuals or organisations should be made liable to criminal proceedings for engaging in mischievous activities of this kind; and in the new Regulation which has now been made a novel procedure has been adopted in order to secure that the sanctions of the criminal law shall be applied only to persons acting with deliberate intent to prejudice the national interest. The Regulation provides for the issue of a warning to any person or organisation who appears to the Secretary of State to be concerned in the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. The warning will draw attention to the matter objected to and will make it clear that if after the warning there is any future publication of matter calculated to foment such opposition the person or persons concerned will become liable to prosecution under the Regulation. Until a warning has been issued no person can be prosecuted for an offence under the Regulation; but if after receiving such a warning there is a continuance of mischievous activities those responsible then become liable to prosecution and, if convicted, to heavy penalties—namely, seven years' penal servitude or a fine of £500, or both.

The Regulation provides ample safeguards against any misuse of the new powers which it confers. In the first place the Secretary of State must be satisfied, not by an isolated remark but by a consistent course of conduct, that there is systematic publication of matter which is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue, and further that the continuance of these activities may cause serious mischief. Then there must be a formal warning by a notice in writing of the consequences of persistence in this course of conduct. Then, if such conduct is persisted in, proceedings based on a specific contravention of the Regulation can be instituted only with the consent of the Attorney-General and can be taken only at Assizes or courts of corresponding jurisdiction; and the defendant cannot be convicted if he can show to the satisfaction of the court that he had no intent to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue and had no reasonable cause to believe that his activities were calculated to foment such opposition. I hope that what I have said will suffice to satisfy the House that this new Regulation is so drawn as to penalise only deliberate, organised and systematic efforts to undermine the national morale; and I need hardly add that it is the firm intention of the Government to apply the criminal sanctions provided by this Regulation only in cases of real gravity where the national interests may be seriously threatened.

A second Regulation in this group is designed to extend and strengthen the provisions of Defence Regulation 39A, under which it is already an offence to endeavour to seduce from their duty persons in His Majesty's service or in the various services of Civil Defence. Experience has shown that it is not enough to restrict this provision to persons already embodied in the various services. The efforts of those who wish to undermine the efficiency of these services may be directed not to persons already serving but to those who are shortly to be called up for service; and the Regulation has therefore been amended so as to make it equally an offence to endeavour to incite persons liable to such service to evade their duties or to endeavour to incite persons to abstain from enrolling voluntarily in any of the defence services. Here again care has been taken to avoid penalising the mere expression of opinion. It will be no offence merely to state the statutory rights of men liable to military service to claim exemption on conscientious grounds, nor will the Regulation prevent the giving of guidance to a young man who is troubled in conscience and seeks advice from a priest or a friend. The Regulation is aimed at those who try to incite young men liable to military service to simulate conscientious objections for the purpose of evading their duties. I am satisfied that this limited provision is necessary and that it will command general support.

Finally, power has been taken to apply really effective sanctions against the use of printing presses for the production of publications which contravene either the new Regulation dealing with the corruption of public morale, or the expanded provisions of Regulation 39A regarding attempts to cause disaffection or Regulation 39B dealing generally with the publication of false statements prejudical to the national interests. Under this new Regulation the Secretary of State may, if he is satisfied that any printing press has been used for the production of any document in respect of which any person has been convicted of an offence under any of these three Regulations, direct that the press shall not be used for any purpose until the leave of the High Court has been obtained for its further use. The High Court may grant such leave if satisfied that the use of the printing press for the production of the offending document was due to a mistake, or even though not so satisfied may grant leave for its future use subject to conditions, or may if it thinks fit order that the printing press shall be destroyed. In many cases documents constituting an offence under these Regulations will have been printed, by persons other than those convicted of distributing or publishing them; and in serious cases it is desirable that there should be power to bring it home to the printer that his plant cannot be used with impunity for the production of mischievous documents of this character which contravene the law. A power to seal up the printer's plant is likely to operate as a more effective deterrent than criminal proceedings leading to a fine; and this new power should materially reduce the extent to which printing presses will be made available for the production of documents of this type.

These new measures, taken as a whole, will substantially strengthen the powers which the responsible authorities can exercise for the purpose of checking organised attempts to undermine resistance to any hostile attack upon this country or to weaken the national resolution to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. I am fully satisfied that in present circumstances it is necessary that we should arm ourselves with these additional powers, so that we may be ready to meet any situation with which we may be faced; and I trust that the action which the Government have taken will command support in all quarters of the House and throughout the country.

German Broadcast Propaganda

27.

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that printed notices are being distributed outside factories in North London urging workers to listen in to the German broadcasting station named New British Broadcasting Station; and whether action will be taken against the distributors as hindering the national war effort?

I am obliged to the hon. Member for the information he has given me, which I have no doubt will be of assistance to the police in the efforts they are making to discover and bring to justice the persons responsible.

Enemy Aliens (Dover)

28.

asked the Home Secretary whether he can state the number of persons of enemy origin, giving numbers in each classification, in the protected area in which Dover is situated?

The time available since this Question appeared on the Order Paper yesterday has not been sufficient to enable me to obtain information except in respect of the Borough of Dover itself, where there are seven persons of enemy nationality registered with the police, all of whom have been placed in category "C" by the local tribunal.

Chief Constable, Liverpool

29.

asked the Home Secretary whether he has given his approval to the recent appointment of a chief constable in Liverpool; and whether his attention has been called to the general public dissatisfaction which has been caused by the method of selection followed?

The answer to the first part of the Question is in the affirmative. I am not aware that the method of selection has given rise to any public dissatisfaction.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was no advertisement, public or private, of the vacancy, that no opportunity was given to any person to make application to fill the vacancy, that the City Council was prevented from discussing the matter, and does he think in those circumstances that this gentleman is likely to have the confidence of anybody in the city?

I think these are mainly matters for the local authority. Although advertisements are the general practice they are by no means the gen- eral rule where, as in this case, the Watch Committee of this authority recommend that the appointment should go to an officer who has for a long period held the position of deputy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any other instances at all in which such an appointment has been made against no competition of any kind from anybody?

I am aware of another case within the last few months where the appointment of a deputy was made without advertisement.

I am referring to the appointment of a deputy to be chief constable.

Drainage, Wednesfield

32.

asked the Minister of Health what action he has taken in response to the petition presented to him by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton East on behalf of 407 residents in Stubby Lane and Broad Lane, Wednesfield, Staffordshire, complaining of local conditions and, in particular, the lack of adequate drainage?

I have been in communication with the Urban District Council of Wednesfield concerning the petition, and I am sending the hon. Member a letter dealing at some length with the various points raised by the petitioners.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the land and gardens surrounding these houses are absolutely waterlogged and that the residents are most anxious to have the water courses opened? Can he take steps to secure that some remedy in connection with that point is found?

As I have said, I am sending the hon. Member a letter dealing with these points.

Mental Hospital, Nottingham

35.

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that the Nottinghamshire County Mental Hospital (Female Block) is gravely overcrowded; and can he state the reason for the continued refusal to allow necessary extensions to be undertaken?

I am afraid I am not clear to what refusal of necessary extensions the hon. Member is referring. I shall be glad to inquire fully into the position, if the hon. Member will send me the details of what he has in mind.

Widows' Pensions

36.

asked the Minister of Health (1) why Mrs. A. Shipley, of 7, Wellington Street, Colne, Lancashire, whose husband, a fully insured worker, died on 31st December last, has not yet received her widow's pension;

(2) why Mrs. J. Brown, of 27, Clarence Street, Colne, whose husband, a fully insured worker, died in January last, has not yet received her widow's pension?

I explained the reasons for the delay in determining claims for pensions under the Contributory Pensions Acts in the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Lambeth, North (Mr. G. Strauss) on the 11th April. Everything possible is being done to overcome the difficulties to which I then referred. As regards the two particular cases mentioned by the hon. Member I am glad to be able to say that Mrs. Shipley has now been awarded a pension and I am taking steps to expedite a decision in the case of Mrs. Brown and will inform the hon. Member of the result.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say on what date the award of a pension was made to Mrs. Shipley?

What steps is the Department taking to enable these people who are left without any means at all, to tide over their difficulties during the four or five months that it takes his Department to award a pension in a perfectly straightforward case without any complications?

The hon. Member is aware that machinery exists whereby pecuniary difficulty in such cases may be avoided. Also I have explained before the difficulties under which the Pensions Branch has been working, including the pressure of work caused by the Act recently passed by this House, inevitably mean that a certain amount of delay takes place.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the delays in question arose before the recent Act was even contemplated, let alone in operation, and that a period of four months to award a pension in which no question can arise is altogether too long?

I have pointed out before that not merely the extra work thrown upon the Department but other factors of which he is well aware have to be taken into consideration.

Old Age Pensions

38.

asked the Minister of Health whether he will recommend to assistance boards dealing with old age pensioners under the recent Act that they allow a proportionate increase in supplementary allowance for each five-point increase in the official cost-of-living figure?

Supplementary pensions will be determined in accordance with regulations made in the manner required by the Act and I have no doubt that the Assistance Board, from whom I expect to receive draft regulations shortly, have taken all aspects of the matter into consideration.

When are those regulations likely to be issued and will they contain some provision for systematically raising supplementary allowances to old age pensioners according to any substantial increase in the cost of living?

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that they are issued as soon as possible in order that we may have an opportunity of going through them before there is a Parliamentary Debate?

I hope to lay them as soon as possible. Obviously Members will require some opportunity for considering them closely before they are debated.

They could not be issued until the draft regulations have been laid, and I think it would be injudicious to issue them till the House has had an opportunity of considering, and possibly of debating, them.

In view of the fact that these old people are daily coming and asking what they are to do, could not the right hon. Gentleman issue some statement to allay their feelings?

I will keep the point in mind. I hope to receive the draft regulations at an early date, and it would be more convenient if the whole matter could be dealt with in one issue of documents.

Emergency Medical Service (Mental Hospitals)

39.

asked the Minister of Health whether he has given or will give guidance to mental hospital committees respecting charges to be made to the War Office to cover the use of mental hospital premises and services or whether any specific agreement has yet been reached on this matter?

The matter to which the hon. Member refers is primarily one for settlement between the War Office and the local authorities concerned. I understand, however, from the Board of Control that agreement has been reached in principle and it is hoped that the details will be settled at an early date.

When will those details be circulated to mental hospital committees, and is the right hon. Gentieman aware that there is great difficulty in discovering whether and when they are likely to get payment for their services?