§ Mr. SPEAKER informed the House that he had received the following letter:
27th December, 1923.
In accordance with the instructions of the Government of Northern Ireland I have the honour to inform you that Mr. Cahir Healy, elected as one of the Imperial Members for Tyrone and Fermanagh, is subject to an Internment Order under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act.
I am, Sir.
Your Obedient Servant,
W. B. Spender,
Secretary to the Cabinet,
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I desire, Mr. Speaker, on the letter which you have just read from the Chair, to raise a question affecting the privileges of Members of this House. Members of the last House will recall that on a similar occasion in 57 November, 1922, a communication from the Department of Home Affairs of Northern Ireland was also read by you, and I then raised the matter of privilege. On that occasion you came to the conclusion that there was no prima facie case, and that consequently I should not be in order in moving the Resolution which at that time I desired to ask leave to propose. In re-opening this matter, it is not to challenge the ruling you then gave I do not for one moment suggest that the ruling which was then given was a ruling which was incorrect or contrary to the practice of Parliament on the materials which were then at your disposal. I plead guilty to some extent to being responsible for the meagreness of the materials which were then put before you for the purposes of judging. The first point I wish to deal with on the present occasion is as to whether the fact that Mr. Cahir Healy is at present interned does not prevent privilege arising, or, in other words, that the privilege of freedom from arrest only occurs when a Member of Parliament is arrested subsequent to his election to this House. I have taken the trouble to look up the precedents in this matter, and I find that in those cases of arrest and imprisonment where privilege is admitted, in the past that privilege has been asserted by this House in relation to Members who were imprisoned before their election, with one exception, and I think you will find that this is clearly set out in Erskine May.
The precedents to which I would refer extend from the early part of the seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century. On 4th July, 1625, Mr. Bassett was imprisoned before election and afterwards discharged, but the House ordered his return. Sir Thomas Mores, who was in the same position, was discharged on 2nd April, 1673. George Galway Mills, who was in the custody of the Master of the King's Bench, was discharged on 8th July, 1807, and I now come to the latest case, Robert Christie Burton, who was discharged on 28th January, 1819. The only exception to that rule was a case which occurred in 1452, and that was the case of a Member called Thorpe, who was Speaker of the House, I regret to say, but when the precedents were subsequently surveyed, it was held that that case was irregular and "begotten by the iniquity of the times." On that point, as to the existing imprison- 58 ment preventing the assertion of privilege, I submit to you, that on the precedents this House is entitled to call for the discharge of a prisoner if it sees that in fact the privilege has been infringed.
I pass from that to make one or two observations on the general question of privilege. It is agreed by all constitutional authorities that there is no privilege for a Member of Parliament who is arrested on a criminal charge or on an indictable offence. The different categories of crime include treason, felony, seditious libel, and, when a Member has been ordered to give securities to keep the peace, and has not obtained these securities, his imprisonment has been held net to be contrary to the privileges of this House; but in all civil cases the privilege was held to prevail, and that is illustrated in connection with contempt of court. Imprisonment in regard to contempt of court did not follow the invariable rule. If the contempt was civil in its character, the House of Commons was entitled to order the release of the prisoner. If, however, the contempt of court was criminal in its character, then in no case has the House asked for the discharge of the Member of Parliament who was imprisoned. Subsequently there arose a new type of case. When Acts were passed suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, it was frequently the practice of Parliament to insert an express provision dealing with arrests under the terms of such Acts, and I think I could quote the provision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] It is a very important matter. It is essential that Members of the House should be familiar with all the relevant arguments and all the relevant precedents in regard to it. The terms were that in cases of arrest under these Acts, intimation should be made by the Judge or Magistrate committing the prisoner to the Speaker, just as if the Member of Parliament had been imprisoned on a criminal charge.
I submit to you, Sir, that the effect of this provision is clearly that Parliament did not regard imprisonment under these conditions as imprisonment for crime. It drew a distinction—a distinction which has subsequently been drawn with regard to imprisonment under later Statutes—between imprisonment which was punitive in its character, and imprisonment which was merely precautionary. I submit to you that the imprisonment in the present 59 case is not imprisonment punitive in its character, but is imprisonment which is purely precautionary, and that therefore it is proper for this House to assert its privilege. The question of the exact nature of internment, first of all under the Defence of the Realm Acts, and the Regulations made thereunder, which were in operation during the War, and subsequently under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, has been a matter of judicial determination. It came before the House of Lords in 1917, in what was called the Zadig case, and on that occasion Lord Finlay, formerly a respected Member of this House, and at that time Lord Chancellor, gave a very carefully considered opinion. He pointed out, that under the Statute measures which were of a punitive character could be taken, and also measures of a precautionary character, and he then went on to show that, under Regulation 27B, which is similar to that referred to in the letter which you have read from the Chair, the action taken by the Executive was precautionary in its character. He said:On the face of it, the Statute authorises in this Sub-section provisions of two kinds, for prevention and for punishment. Any preventive measures, even if they involve some restraint or hardship upon individuals, do not partake in any way of the nature of punishment, but are taken by way of precaution to prevent mischief to the State.I would point out that that statement by a former Lord Chancellor clearly defines the nature of the detention which has taken place in the case of Mr. Cahir Healy, that it is, in other words, not criminal in its character, but purely precautionary. I could also quote a statement made in this House by the present Lord Chancellor at the time when he was Home Secretary. A question had been put to him on the 19th June, 1917, as to the distinction between internment and imprisonment. He there made it clear that internment is a precautionary measure, and he then distinguished imprisonment, which is a punishment imposed on persons convicted of crime. Therefore, on this distinction, I can fortify myself with the authority both of the present Lord Chancellor, and of his predecessor, Lord Finlay.
There is a further point which arises. Erskine May has laid it down—and this is a point which I did not submit to you 60 at all on the last occasion—that when intimation is made by the authority responsible for the arrest and detention of a Member of this House, it is incumbent upon the authority making the intimation to state specifically the cause of arrest and detention. Now, the letter which you have read to the House contains no information at all. 1 invite any hon. Member in any part of the House to state now whether he has even the faintest and remotest idea in his mind why a Member of this House is now being detained by the Department of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. I submit, therefore, that the failure to indicate the cause of imprisonment makes it advisable and appropriate that, following precedent, this House should appoint a Committee to inquire into the cause. On the last occasion, the letter which you read was very vague, but it is even shorter on the present occasion. I submit that the letter in the terms in which you have read it is positively disrespectful to this House. I can recall no example at any time, even in times of the greatest iniquity, in which such slender and meagre information has been offered to this House in relation to the imprisonment of a Member. We have had several precedents during the War. I am not going to quote many of them. There are some that are against me, and I wish to make a frank avowal as to those cases which are apparently against me. But the first case which arose during the War was on the 3rd June, 1918, when Mr. De Valera, Count Plunkett, Mr. Cosgrave, the present President of the Irish Free State, and Mr. McGuinness were interned. The intimation was then made to your predecessor in the Chair, and a long letter was read from the Chair stating the effect of the Regulation under which the arrest had been made, and stating clearly also the reasons why the representative of the executive—at that time Mr. Edward Shortt, who was Chief Secretary—thought it necessary that those people should be interned. So that if the House did not then assert its privileges, it was not because it was not clearly informed.
Let me recall, that if no discussion took place on their special case, there was at the same time prolonged discussion in the Rouse itself on the policy of the measures which the Government had taken, not only in regard to those four Members, 61 but in regard to a largo number of Sinn Feiners in various parts of Ireland. That was a precedent during the War. I am also informed, that if you take practically the invariable custom in relation to this matter, on every occasion in which an intimation has been made, the cause of arrest has been clearly stated. On this occasion it is not. I would like to make a few observations as to the facts of the case. I agree that what I have to say will be an ex parte statement; but in determining whether there is a prima facie case, all that a judge, under usual conditions, has to help him, is either one or more ex parte statements. On the last occasion, I knew nothing of the facts. I merely raised the question from the point of view of this House, without any knowledge either of the wishes of the individual Member or the circumstances under which he had been arrested. Now information is available to me. The hon. Member has written several times to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford City (Mr. F. Gray). He says, in a letter dated 15th December:I have again been elected for Fermanagh and Tyrone. When the last Parliament was assembled, I was in custody. I am still in custody. No charge can be brought against me. I have always kept the law, and the Northern authorities desire my being kept in custody until the boundary matter arising out of the Treaty is settled. They think they will, by holding 450 odd Wren here, and on the old cargo boat in Belfast Lough, have something to bargain over.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I expected that interruption. It is due to the fact that the Northern Government has suppressed news. It is true that a statement has appeared in the "Belfast News-letter," of which the right hon. Member who has just interrupted knows something, stating that Mr. Cahir Healy had repudiated that letter. But he has since written in the following terms to Sir Dawson Bates, who, as the hon. Member opposite will know, is the Home Secretary of the Northern Parliament:
4.0 P.M.I have seen the statement issued to-day's 'Irish News' from the Belfast Home Office which indicates that I repudiate the contents of a letter published by Mr. Frank Cray, M.P. Though I did not pass the letter out "—62 he would not be allowed to pass it—it represents the exact facts of the situation, and was written by my authority.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
"Please give this letter the same publicity you did to the notice of to-day."
That letter, Mr. Speaker, from Mr. Cahir Healy has been suppressed. I am not going to read all the letters—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"]—but I have another letter here in which he states his case somewhat more fully. As these are the statements and the authentic statements of a Member of this House, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, in giving your decision as to whether there is a prima facie case it is at least fair that his statements should be taken into account. Here is the letter:I have never been convicted of anything. Fermanagh, in which I have spent almost 30 years, is the most peaceful county in the North and has always been so. Once, it is true, I was prosecuted for the possession of some bills calling a meeting to protest against conscription—.That may interest hon. Members of the Labour party. There was, I think, a dinner party the other night.The magistrate's conviction being taken into the County Court it was dismissed on the merits.That is the only time Mr. Healy has been in Court. He had not at that time qualified for the dinner!I enclose you an original affidavit signed by a thoroughly reliable man who has never been convicted of anything either, and witnessed by a magistrate of the County Derry in the jurisdiction of the Northern Government, who happens to be interned here also. I was interned"—This is a continuation of the letter, not the affidavit—in May, 1922. This affidavit, if it means anything, means that the man in charge of the police authorities in County Fermanagh was seeking evidence to justify my arrest as late as March, 1923.For evidence against him in March, 1923, nearly a year after he had been interned!It also means that he was making suggestions to a man under arrest to incriminate me, and that if he gave information he should go free, as they had no charge against him. I was never an Intelligence officer or any other officer in the I.R.A., and I challenge them to produce a scrap of evidence in support of this.I do not desire to read the whole of the affidavit; I will read a part.
§ Mr. D. REID
Might I put a question? I do not suggest for a moment that the hon. Member who is speaking is not within his right in raising a question of privilege, for that is something which may happen to anyone; but I submit what he is doing now is to attack the administration of the Northern Government, and you, Mr. Speaker, have held in respect to the jurisdiction of the Northern Parliament that questions regarding local matters are not permissible in this House. I therefore submit to you that any investigation of the facts or the special facts of this case or of the action by the authority is not a matter which ought to be discussed.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is quite true, that as the hon. and learned Member for Penistone, will remember, this House by statute transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland the responsibility for peace and order in that place. At the same time, I want to be very careful not to refuse to admit any matter which may be relevant to the question of privilege now being submitted to me. I confess, however, I do not see the relevance of the statement now being dealt with. While I think I am right in being careful not to refuse the admittance of anything which may seem to bear upon the matter, I do not desire that we should entrench upon the province of the government of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
If in anything I have quoted from these letters I have overstepped the limits, I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; but I have been anxious to give the true effect of the letters. I will refrain, in reading from the affidavit, quoting anything that refers to anything except Mr. Cahir Healy, and in what I may give I trust I satisfy the hon. Member opposite:On Wednesday 7th, about 11 o'clock, I was taken into a room "—This is an affidavit by a gentleman called Patrick Cleary, junr., which was sworn on the 7th day of January, 1924, before a Justice of the Peace of the County of Derry.—in the same building and interrupted by the county inspector of the R.U.C.… He asked mo if I knew Cahir Healy, and I replied I did. He asked: 'Do you know that Cahir Healy is a County Intelligence Officer?' I replied: 'It is the first time I have heard it.' He said: 'There is a secret society going on in this county. The 64 Sinn Feiners are all the same: the Free Staters make the buildings and the Republicans fire them.' I replied: 'I know nothing about any secret society.' He asked: 'Do you know any man who is likely to be at the head of this society?' I said, Do you want me to give a name not knowing whether he is innocent or not?' He replied: 'You will have to bear with the consequences.'The importance of this is that this conversation, which is sworn to in the affidavit, took place in March, 1923, 10 months after Mr. Healy had been arrested; and the conversation indicates an endeavour to get evidence upon which to found a charge against Mr. Healy. I submit that all the evidence I have put before you shows that there is no charge against him. As has been publicly stated in the Northern Irish newspapers, he is solely interned because of unfavourable police reports. If these are the facts, as asserted by a Member of this House, and as shown in the evidence by the affidavit which I have read, I submit that there is here material for a Committee of this House to inquire into the facts, and further, to report to this House. In these circumstances I ask leave to propose a Motion similar to that which was proposed by Mr. Parnell from this place on 15th February, 1883, in regard to the imprisonment of Mr. Timothy Michael Healy, now His Majesty's Governor-General of the Irish Free State. It is in these terms:That the letter informing the House of the internment of Mr. Cahir Healy, a Member of this House, be referred to a Select Committee for the purpose of inquiring into all the matters referred to therein, and of reporting whether they demand the further attention of this House.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Might I be permitted, in a very few sentences, to supplement the submission which has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle). It is apparent from the letter which you, Sir, read to the House just now that an hon. Member, a man who has been elected to serve in this Imperial Parliament, is in custody, and is being physically detained from the opportunity of coming and sitting here in this House of Commons. That, I submit, raises an ancient and most important privilege of this House. It does not merely raise the question of the right of the individual who is thus detained, but it raises a question 65 as to the privilege of the House of Commons itself, the ancient and undoubted privileges of the House of Commons, including those to which you, Sir, referred when you submitted yourself to the Sovereign in another place a week ago. One of the ancient and undoubted privileges of the House of Commons is this; that any Member of this elected body enjoys the privilege of freedom from arrest. While it is perfectly true that exceptions have been laid down to that wide proposition, those exceptions, you will know, have been laid down by Resolution of this House, and have not yet—I say it with great respect—been laid down by rulings from the Chair. It has been laid down ever since the 17th century that the privilege of freedom from arrest which anyone elected to this House enjoys does not extend to secure his release if he has been arrested for, or is serving a sentence of imprisonment for, treason or felony. I think it was in the time of John Wilkes, about the middle of the 18th century, that a Resolution of this House added to such exceptions the case of seditious libel—but it was done by Resolution of this House. I have it here. On 29th November, 1763, it was resolved by this House:That the privilege of Parliament does not extend to the case of writing and publishing seditious libels, nor should be allowed to obstruct the ordinary course of law in the speedy and effectual prosecution of such heinous and dangerous offences.I submit to you it is plainly laid down that the privilege of freedom from arrest, which is one of the privileges enjoyed by every Member elected to this House, extends not only to save him from future arrest but to discharge him from past detention in every case, except the case where it is shown to the satisfaction of the House that he is detained on a charge of, or as a punishment for, treason or other indictable offence, or for a breach of the peace, or for the rather unusual case of contempt of Court of a criminal character.
May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that in the past history of the House of Commons this has been illustrated more than once in a case where a Member has been elected to this House at a time when he was a prisoner for debt? There have certainly been two cases—I think more—which I have looked into where a Member was elected to serve in this House who was at the time detained in the Fleet 66 Prison for debt. May I give an illustration? If the vacancy in the City of London which now exists were to be filled by Mr. Samuel Pickwick, now detained in the Fleet Prison, the mere fact of his being elected would give us all the gratification of welcoming him here, and he would be automatically released from the Fleet Prison. It is quite clear that, except in the cases where you have an approved and definite report to the House that an individual is being detained for an indictable offence, or for a breach of the peace, that no communication of process to this House of Commons will deprive that Member of his privileges. May I quote a single sentence from a work of undoubted authority, the work of Sir William Anson, who observes in the first volume dealing with Parliament, on page 158:It should be added that the privileges of Parliament operate to take a Member out of custody if he is elected while in custody, always supposing that he is not in custody for an indictable offence or for contempt of court.I submit with great respect that the question of my hon. Friend which is raised comes down to this: The letter you, Mr. Speaker, have read from the Chair is a singularly curt and uninforming document in some respects, but it is a letter which makes it obvious to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, that this Irish Member is not in custody for an indictable offence or for contempt of court. I submit with the greatest confidence that nobody who knows even approximately the circumstances of internments which have taken place under the Defence of the Realm Regulations during the war, and under similar regulations now apparently existing in Ireland, will for a moment suggest that a person who is detained under them is detained for an indictable offence or for contempt of court. I see the Home Secretary sitting opposite, and I think he has good reasons to remember that when orders are made for the internment of persons who have never been put on trial, or charged with any crime and have never been sentenced or convicted, they cannot be described as persons guilty of an indictable offence or contempt of court. If the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone had been placed in an internment camp in this country by order of the Home Secretary—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is not interned in this country"]—we shall see in a moment whether the 67 privileges of the Imperial Parliament are to be considered inferior to the Parliament of Northern Ireland.
Even if a Member elected to this House was interned by order of the Home Secretary here, under the authority of a British Act of Parliament, that would not avail to keep such an individual in custody once this question of privilege is raised. How much more is it obvious that a Member elected to serve in this House cannot lawfully be detained in custody by the mere report to Mr. Speaker that he is detained by the order of some subordinate Minister or official in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I would point out that a test has constantly been applied whether the report made to you, Mr. Speaker, has been adequate, full, and precise, and you cannot imagine for a moment a report more barren and empty than the brief letter which you, Mr. Speaker, have read to the House informing us that this hon. Member, elected to this Parliament, is detained by order of the Home Secretary in Northern Ireland. I submit that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone is quite right, and that this is not a matter which merely affects the rights of this individual, whoever he may be, but it is a matter which goes to the foundation of the rights of the Members of the House of Commons. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I submit that you should recognise that this matter is not so plain that it may be set on one side as not affording a prima facie case, but that it is one which plainly calls for investigation by a Committee of this House.
§ Mr. HARBISON
As the colleague of the hon. Member who is now interned, I would like to state one or two simple facts. Some time ago I had reason to pay a visit to my colleague at the Larne Workhouse, where he is interned, and he refuted a statement made in this House that he was not willing to come to this House. The hon. Member who is now interned has always been a constitutionalist Member. He was a Sinn Feiner, but he was a Constitutional Sinn Feiner, and he informed me before the election that if he were elected for Fermanagh and Tyrone, and his constituents so wished it, he would certainly attend this House. I do not wish to elaborate the able statement which has 68 been made by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) to-day, nor do I wish to enter into the legal technicalities of the case which have been placed before the House by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). I wish, however, to point out that the Home Secretary has the power of life and death, and the power to wipe out all our civil liberties in the northern area of Ireland.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member not to trench on matters which are within the province of the Government of Northern Ireland. We are not here to criticise their laws or their methods, and we must deal with this case simply as it affects a Member of this House.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I only wish to put before the House the facts of the case as neatly and as apropos as I can. Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which created a subordinate Parliament in Belfast, lays down:Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliaments of Southern and Northern Ireland, or the Parliament of Ireland, or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and Undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Ireland and every part thereof.I appeal to this House as the superior authority to guard our liberties and give my colleague a chance of proving his innocence by having an inquiry before a Select Committee of this House. I am in a position to speak on this subject for my colleague, and I know that he is not afraid to appear before a Committee of this House or a Judge of any kind. He is an innocent man, who has now bean imprisoned for nearly two years without being charged and without a trial, and he demands a trial before any Judge, or before a Committee of this House. I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion, and I trust, Mr. Speaker, that this House will grant it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
What I said was that if at present there were Defence of the Realm Regulations operating in this country under which an individual had been interned in this country who had never been tried or convicted, but had merely been detained, the privileges of Parliament would secure his release.
§ Mr. REID
Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman admits that an Act of Parliament can prevail against the privileges of this House. A state of affairs has arisen in Northern Ireland which has never existed before. This House, in its wisdom, under the Act of 1920, transferred to the Parliament of Northern Ireland the responsibility for law, order and good Government in Northern Ireland. It has not been suggested that the Act of Parliament referred to passed by the Government of Northern Ireland is not within its competence. It is not suggested even that the regulations made under that Act are not authorised by that Act. My submission is that this matter refers to an entirely different state of affairs to that which has been argued. This House, by concurring in the passing of the Act of 1920, has transferred the responsibility and the power of enforcing law and order to the Parliament of Northern Ireland and within the ambit of that Act there are Acts which cannot be questioned. I submit that the Section of that Act quoted by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harbison) has no application whatever to this case. Of course, it preserves the powers of this House, but it is my submission that nothing connected with the Parliament of the United Kingdom can override the Act of Parliament of 1920, and that the matter therefore is not a question which raises the privileges of this House.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It seems most extraordinary to some of us—of course, I am one of the unconstitutional Members of the House—to hear this unconstitutionalism preached by those who pretend to be the upholders of the Empire. Southern Ireland is supposed to have control over its own affairs. They have interned certain people in the South of Ireland. The Government of this country has used its influence, and has been defeated in the highest Courts of Law on the right of subjects not to be 70 interned. These men have been released, and compensation has been paid by the Government responsible. Here we have the case of a Member of this House who has been interned for over 18 months without trial and without any crime being charged against him. The only crime that he has committed is that he is supposed to be a Sinn Feiner. So am I, and so are you. We are all Sinn Feiners. We believe in our own country first, do we not? I hope we do. This man's crime has not yet been alleged against him. He has never been on trial; he has simply been interned because he is supposed to be a dangerous person in the eyes of the Government of Northern Ireland. They are more dangerous to England than Mr. Cahir Healy ever was, because they are creating a feeling among the Irish people of Great Britain—[Interruption.]—I am telling you what I mean. This man has been interned for over 18 months, he has not been on trial, and he has never been convicted of any offence. He is entitled to a trial if there be any offence charged against him, and he is entitled as a Member of this House to be released under the privileges of this House. I am not innocent. I have been in gaol three times. I am not going to apologise for it. I am willing to go again for the same reason. Why should this man—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is not quite relevant to the matter before the House. We should rather keep the subject of the personality of the hon. Member for a more appropriate occasion.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
I want to deal with a different aspect of the case. The letter which you, Sir, have read seems to me, and I think it must have seemed to many hon. Members, both curt and, indeed, I might almost say, insolent, as addressed by an inferior officer of an inferior Parliament to the Speaker of the Parliament of Great Britain, and I hone that in any future communication which you may have with the authorities of the Parliament of Northern Ireland this House will authorise you to address to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland a very 71 sharp rebuke for the insolence of their servant. It has been the custom in the past—
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
On a point of Order. Is it competent for any hon. Member of this House to criticise the action of the Government of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
When we have transferred business to another Parliament, we must be careful in this House that we do not, by criticism in this House, infringe the authority of that body within the limits that have been given to it.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I submit that in any communications which the Parliament of Northern Ireland chooses to hold with the House of Commons of Great Britain there should be some control over the language and forms used in addressing you. I believe that men holding much higher and more dignified offices than the gentleman who wrote that letter have been accustomed in the past, in writing letters to the Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain giving similar information, to use forms and terms of far more courtesy, and I might almost say of obsequiousness. We do not ask for that, but I think this House of Commons is entitled to ask for respect from the servants of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and I therefore reiterate my original statement that I hope that in any future dealings that you, as our representative, may have with the Parliament of Northern Ireland you will be asked to bring to their attention the lack of courtesy which has characterised this communication, with the hope that in future greater courtesy will characterise them.
§ Mr. MOLES
I do not for a moment intend to enlarge upon the principles of constitutional law which have been raised, but there is one observation which I would like to make about the point raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle). The greatest authority on constitutional history that we know, Professor Morgan, in that impeccable organ the "Daily Mail," only the other day publicly rebuked him as one of the most hopelessly incompetent and misinformed authorities on constitutional law that the country has ever known.
§ Mr. MOLES
In so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) is concerned, I notice that he bolstered up a somewhat weak case in constitutional law by invoking the immortal memory of Mr. Pickwick. I rise to enter a protest against the wholly fantastic and unfounded charge of discourtesy made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Johnstone). I can appeal to the older Members of this House who will remember the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland when he sat on that Treasury Bench, and on both sides of the House. I think I may fairly challenge their opinion, as to whether he was not, by nature, instinct and training, a gentleman in demeanour—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. I desire to ask your ruling whether the character of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is relevant to this matter, in view of the fact that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland had nothing to do with the letter. It was written by a subordinate official of the Home Office. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps I may dispose of this matter at once. Had I thought that there was any such thing as discourtesy in the letter addressed to me, I should have sent it back to the writer.
§ Mr. MOLES
That was the observation which I was about to make—that I thought possibly the dignity and respect due to this House was in as worthy hands when they were left to you as in the hands of the hon. Member opposite, who seems, in my judgment, to have very little acquaintance with either. The hon. Member for Penistone has advanced one or two startling propositions, the effect of which is not, perhaps, quite realised. The first of them was that whatever is in an affidavit is true. I wonder whether he has ever heard the dictum of a famous Irish Judge who once said—and I commend it to his notice—that occasionally, but only 73 occasionally, the truth slips into an affidavit, and particularly affidavits of the type which he presented. The second proposition which he advanced was that the only people whose testimony can be trusted are culprits examined in each other's favour. That perhaps is why he presented this series of affidavits in this Gentleman's favour.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Gentleman has referred to one of the Members of Fermanagh and Tyrone as a, "culprit," although this Member has never been tried. I put it to you that that the hon. Member is out of Order in describing any Member of this House as a culprit.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I thought that the phrase was directed to the hon. Member for Penistone, but, if it were used in the sense of a convicted offender, of course it ought not to have been used.
§ Mr. MOLES
I will restrict the observation entirely to the hon. Member. The last proposition which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley advanced was that to be elected to this House is in the nature of a general gaol delivery. I venture to warn the right hon. Gentleman to take care he does not make that doctrine too widely known, because the effect may be this that some 3,000 internees in Southern Ireland will proceed to assail the seats of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and perhaps dispossess them—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am very jealous of the privileges of this House, and I am therefore very reluctant to interfere with the complete presentation of the case under consideration, but the hon. Member is going very far wide of the question that is before the House.
§ Mr. MOLES
The hon. Member for Penistone does not like my personal references. Exceedingly little has been 74 said about the facts of this particular case, and, perhaps, I may be permitted to tell those facts in a few very simple phrases. What was the position and what were the conditions which led up to the arrest and internment of this Gentleman? I am in the happy position that I can appeal to hon. Members in various quarters of the House for confirmation of the facts I am about to state, and more particularly can I appeal to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), that when there was cast upon the Government of Northern Ireland the duty of taking over responsibility for law and order, the position was that £8,000,000 worth of property had been burnt by incendiaries and Sinn Feiners—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We cannot now go into the merits of that Act, or even refer to the way in which it has been administered.
§ Mr. MOLES
The House will, I am sure, wish to realise what was the position taken over by the Government of Northern Ireland, and it ought to have a clear and precise picture of that position. The whole country was in chaos. Murder and outrage were rampant. The old Irish Royal Constabulary had just been disbanded, and within a short distance of Enniskillen, the town in which this hon. Member resided and was arrested—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Will the hon. and learned Member confine himself solely to the matter on which privilege is claimed? I shall not allow these other matters to enter into my mind in any decision to which I may come.
§ Mr. MOLES
I appreciate your point, Sir, but may I respectfully submit that the hon. Gentleman who has lodged this attack assailed the Northern Government and said that this man was wrongly interned and wrongly detained? Surely in justice to that Government which he has attacked, and also in the interests of truth, I am entitled to submit what are the real facts?
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. Is not the matter under discussion the privileges of a Member of this House, and is the hon. Gentleman entitled to raise any other question than that?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is the very matter on which one of the hon. Member's colleagues appealed to me, and I ruled that I could not allow any discussion in this House on the administration of the Government of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. MOLES
I submit at once to your ruling, although I confess it is with some feeling of disappointment that I am not permitted by the rules, which I, of course, observe, to submit some considerations to this House that would immediately dispose of the totally fictitious case which it has been attempted to make here. It comes to this that this Government, like other Governments, has been faced with exceptional circumstances and from time to time has been forced to resort to exceptional measures to deal with those exceptional circumstances and the justification for their action is this: that they have succeeded in breaking up the agitation led by terrorists, and, to use the language of the hon. Member for Penistone, Fermanagh and Tyrone have never been so absolutely free from crime as they are under the administration of the Government of Northern Ireland. That is the justification for what has been done.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
On a point of Order. How many times are you going to call upon a Member to resume his seat before you say he may retain his seat?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. Is it not your ruling that an hon. Member is entitled to say what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone has done, but not what other people have done and not what the Government of Northern Ireland have done?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is not at all relevant to the matter, and I must now ask the hon. Member to resume his seat. I have, I think, had every point submitted to me, and I am, as is the House, naturally very jealous of its ancient privilege. I do not think that any matter has been adduced which was not present to my mind when I gave my decision in November, 1922. But, after the long submission that has been made to me by the learned Members of the House, I think it would be courteous to them and to the House if I were to defer what I have to say until I have seen in print what has been submitted to me to-day; and I will ask the House to permit me, in these circumstances, to give my answer to-morrow.