HC Deb 22 May 1940 vol 361 cc196-235

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Mr. Benson

I conclude by saying that to rely upon a savage penalty is to rely on a method which has invariably failed. The only method of putting down crime is the increased efficiency of your police force, not the severity but the certainty of the penalty. That is true now. Treachery must be stopped, but do not let us rely on what has proved to be a broken reed. Severity is dangerous as a substitute for an efficient police and is unnecessary as a supplement.

6.14 p.m.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

I am sure Members in all parts of the House will respect the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), who, we recognise, speaks with deep feelings on this matter, and who will no doubt realise that he is in a minority on this occasion. I am sure we all recognise also that the country is in such danger that it is the duty of Parliament to pass legislation which will enable proper acts to be taken and which will give confidence to the liege subjects of His Majesty that prompt and effective action is possible. There is always the danger, when feelings are naturally roused, of people taking the law into their own hands, which is something we do not want. As the right hon. Gentleman explained, the procedure of the Treason Law is full of ritual and is of great antiquity, and in consequence, it is quite useless for meeting the sort of emergency which confronts us to-day. I hope and believe that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading without a Division, because if there were a Division, even on a question of conscience as it would be for one or two hon. Members, it might give a false impression outside, which would be unfortunate.

The Home Secretary emphasised the fact that this is only for grave acts. One rather wonders whether more definition will be given as to what constitutes a grave act. In questions of treachery and plotting against the safety of the State, we have never yet in this country had to confront a situation of actual invasion, and one of the most difficult things for the Government, and for all those in positions of responsibility, is to give to people in every part of the country a feeling of confidence that this situa- tion is well in hand. There is, I am afraid, a rather widespread feeling to-day that we have been somewhat lenient and that there are possibly people in our midst who are not all they would wish to appear. I believe that to be a fact, and if that fact is known, and there are rumours about such people, it seems to me to be all the more essential that Parliament should pass a Measure of this sort which will give a sense of confidence to the country that the new situation will be met, and met with firmness and courage by those who have to act.

I should like to raise one matter in connection with Clause 2, Sub-section (1, c), where there is a provision for a member of the Armed Forces or of the Crown, or of the armed forces of any foreign power, including an enemy power, being handed over and shot. I do not know whether the Home Secretary recognises that there are some people who wonder whether it would not be wise at this time to define a little more clearly what exactly is the position under the law if a man belonging to enemy forces lands in this country, either by parachute or in some other way, in plain clothes or in a disguise of some sort. I notice from reports in the newspapers that whenever this method has been employed during hostilities recently, the men who have been sent down by parachute have had various disguises. Whether they have had a uniform underneath the disguises, and have discarded the disguises some time after landing, I do not know, but I think it is essential that, if the rule of uniform and all that it stands for in international law is to be understood, it is most important that there should be an authoritative statement at the earliest possible moment as to the position of a soldier in disguise, belonging to an enemy Power, who suddenly appears in this country and is caught red-handed while attempting to blow up some building or destroy life. A great many different views have been advanced by legal luminaries, and the matter is one that ought to be clearly stated. Any one of us in the very near future may be confronted with such a situation, and I suppose this is about the last occasion on which it will be possible to get some definition on this subject.

Another thing which I think ought to be emphasised is that any penalties, and certainly the death penalty, when carried out should be a deterrent to others. We have to recognise that the German Government, being completely ruthless, have used the power of execution by beheading in a particularly horrible way in order to put down any chance of espionage in Germany, and they have, I think, been successful because they have made the fact public, and made all the grisly details public as well. I hope that if these sentences are carried out the public will be told that they have been carried out, because then they will act as a deterrent, and, we hope, prevent other people from adopting a similar course. I trust that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, and I hope that we may be given some further explanation on the points I have ventured to raise.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I should like to say a few words in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. In his very clear exposition, the Home Secretary fully justified the Government in bringing forward the Bill. Although they could have dealt with this matter under the Defence of the Realm Act and Regulations, I think that, in view of the gravity of the Measure, the Government were wise in coming here and getting the express approval of Parliament. The Home Secretary referred to the question of the death penalty as such in peace time, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) has dealt fully with that matter. In normal peaceful times, I am strongly in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. I think its abolition is fully justified by experience, and I know there are many Members in all parts of the House who take the same view. But what on earth has that to do with the situation in which we find ourselves to-day? The mere fact of going to war means that we are obliged deliberately to kill large numbers of men, and when we think that not only men, but women and children, are being deliberately machine-gunned in a most ruthless manner by the enemy, surely it is not too much to ask that the people who facilitate that and who make it possible for such outrages to be carried out should suffer the death penalty which they themselves are inflicting on large numbers of people. I cannot help feeling that it shows a lack of a sense of proportion to imagine that one can relent, and apply what is a per- fectly reasonable and sound argument under normal conditions to the fearful position in which we now find ourselves. I venture to hope that the Measure will be given a Second Reading without a Division.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) feels that in time of war principles of law that are of immense importance can be disregarded because of the fact that in war human life is a thing of no account in many cases. Surely, even in a very grave crisis such as this we ought to see that any laws that are framed are in harmony with the spirit that has moulded our civilisation and made for progress during the whole of the last century. During all that time we have gradually eliminated the death penalty from our Statutes, and with good results in every way. I appreciate very much the spirit in which the Home Secretary introduced this Measure, and the very kindly way in which he referred to those, of whom I am one, who are in principle opposed to capital punishment.

But on this occasion I want to ask the House to consider not merely the question of principle, but the question of expediency. We have reason to know from history the grievous results that have followed from the execution, even under proper military law, of those who were technically guilty of espionage. I will not deal with more recent cases, but one may refer particularly to the case of Major Andréin the American War of Independence. Undoubtedly he was guilty of espionage under the laws of war, and he was executed by the American army authorities. This caused bitter feeling for a long time, which might have been avoided if the death penalty had not been inflicted. In the last war, after the Easter rising in Dublin in 1916, I remember how it was considered absolutely necessary by the Prime Minister and the military authorities that the leaders of the Easter Rebellion should be executed at once. Can we doubt for a moment that if, instead of execution, a long sentence of imprisonment had been imposed, relations between our two countries would be immensely better now?

One of the strongest arguments against the infliction of the death penalty is its irrevocability. Under the terms of the Bill, the intention is of primary importance. How is any court to make a perfect judgment as to intention? In most cases it can be only by inferring it by a process of reasoning deduced from acts. In any case there may be mistakes which afterwards may come to light, and if the death penalty is inflicted, there is no possibility of redress. I do not ask that the Government should deal leniently with this terrible offence. It is urgently necessary in present circumstances that severe measures should be taken. However, I hope that in the Committee stage it may be possible to move to the Clause which inflicts the death penalty an Amendment allowing to the court the alternative of a very long sentence of imprisonment.

I hope to have the opportunity of moving an Amendment of that kind, and I ask the Government to consider it. It would give an option to the court. It would not leave it just to the possibility of two charges being conjoined and the minor charge alone sustained. It would make it possible for the court, where it had any hesitation in inflicting the death penalty, to inflict a long sentence of imprisonment. I believe that an Amendment on those lines would lead to the passing of this Bill in a very different spirit from that which would otherwise be the case, and it would avoid the possibility of the gravest injustices that might occur, without the possibility of there being any redress, if the Bill were passed into law as it is now framed.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

I wish to associate myself with those who have deplored the introduction of this Bill at this time. I know that, in taking that view, one is running counter to the overwhelming feeling in this House, and it may well be, for all I know, the overwhelming feeling in the country. No doubt, we are passing through very dangerous, difficult and critical days. We are being compelled to meet a new type of warfare which uses treachery as one of its weapons, and everyone can sympathise with the feeling which has probably prompted the Government to introduce this Bill and will probably guide large masses of the public to approve of it. But continually we are being exhorted, and rightly exhorted, by the Government and by all responsible people not to lose our heads when we are passing through critical times. We are told that we ought not to be carried away by the crisis through which we are passing; that we should keep a cool judgment and do things which are justified on their merits, rather than things which are excusable by reason of the emotions and the passions entailed by the crisis.

I listened very carefully to the Home Secretary's speech because I was interested to learn why the Government thought this Bill necessary. The right hon. Gentleman was at pains to explain that the gist of the Bill was to be found in Clause 1, and that in Clause 1 nothing was made a capital offence which was not a capital offence before. He qualified that statement a little, and I shall deal later with his qualification, but he commended the Bill, especially to those of us who have always detested capital punishment, on the ground that the capital penalty was not being extended and that no new capital offence was created by Clause 1. I do not think that any new capital offence is created by Clause 1, subject to the qualification to which I shall come in a moment and which I suppose the Home Secretary had in mind, but I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friends who say that we ought not to pass this Bill because of the objection to the death penalty in itself.

I suppose that if we are passing through a war in which hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives may be lost, thousands of them it may be by treachery of the kind against which this Bill is aimed, one need not expect the House of Commons or the country to be particularly squeamish about the lives of a small number of individuals. Nor do I dissent from the vivid description given by my right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench of the odiousness of this kind of treachery in war. It is easily understandable that people should be deeply moved by considerations of that kind, although I remember a speech made by the present Minister for Economic Warfare, in which he said that we had no quarrel with the German people, provided they did in Germany the very things which we regard as odious here. Still there it is. But if the capital penalty is not being extended and if no new capital offences are being created, one may ask why introduce the Bill at all?

It seems to me that the Bill is really being introduced in order to make quite certain that one class of offence—which I should have thought was a capital offence anyhow—is treated as a capital offence. That is the case of an enemy alien, not subject even to a local allegiance, who commits any of the acts described in Clause 1. I should have thought that an offence of that kind was well covered already. If an enemy soldier arrived in this country in disguise and committed acts of that kind, I should have thought that there would be no difficulty in dealing with him. But supposing that that is not so. Supposing there is here a type of act which is not now a capital offence, an act committed by an enemy alien, owing no general and no local allegiance in this country, then none of the strictures which have been applied, rightly, to acts of treachery by our own citizens or by those owing allegiance to this country, can possibly apply. All the odiousness goes from the act if it is committed as a duty to a man's own country. In that sense I do not think we ought to create a new capital offence. I do not think the Government intended to do so.

If it was thought desirable to make that a capital offence which was not previously a capital offence, I cannot understand why a short Measure could not have been introduced for that single purpose and discussed on its own merits. Whatever may be thought now, however acceptable this Measure may be to the House and the country to-day, a time will come when we shall, perhaps, a little, regret the fact that we thought it necessary in these circumstances and at this time to introduce this Measure. It adds nothing to our powers of dealing with our own traitors. It is admitted by everybody, including the right hon. Gentleman, that those powers are ample. I do not object to the exercise of those powers but what this Bill does is to add something to them out of a feeling approaching panic, which, some day, we may regret.

6.39 p.m.

Mr. McGovern (Shettleston)

When the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) said it was our duty at the present time to keep our heads, I was reminded of a story which I heard of a parachutist who descended in Holland. He landed in the middle of a field in which there was a lady with a scythe. She used the scythe against the parachutist, who said to her, "Ah, you have missed." The lady replied, "You try to shake your head and you will know whether I have missed or not." I agree on the importance of keeping our heads, but there are certain people who may be regarded as running great risk of losing their heads. It may be that they are the best judges of what their actions ought to be in order to keep their heads. I am in a difficulty regarding this Bill. Although I am opposed to the war, I want it to be understood that I have no sympathy with people who may be regarded as Quislings. The man in any country who tries to assist that country's enemies in war or peace, who helps an enemy to accomplish hostile acts against the country to which he should owe some form of allegiance, is obnoxious to me but I believe that certain actions, even those taken during times of war, against that kind of thing are unnecessary.

I can illustrate the difficulty which arises in regard to this Bill by quoting a letter which was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on behalf of the Home Secretary in reply to a request from my hon. Friend that he should be allowed to discuss certain questions arising from this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's secretary wrote: The Home Secretary has asked me to write to you on his behalf wth reference to your request that you should be given an opportunity for comment on the terms of the revised Defence Regulation which, as foreshadowed in recent statements in the House, it is proposed to make to strengthen the existing powers of dealing with certain forms of anti-war propaganda. Am I to take it that this Bill has been introduced with a view to dealing with those engaged in anti-war propaganda? If not, then I am prepared to accept complete assurances on the point. If it is intended to deal only with those who are inclined to, or are anxious to, betray the interests of the country, I have no objection to measures being taken, although naturally I object to the death penalty. If I were a supporter of the war I would not object to the death penalty. If I agreed to the mass massacre of human beings in war, I could not salve my conscience by objecting to the imposition of the death penalty on those who sought to make the massacre still greater by acts of betrayal. But I have always been opposed to the death penalty. I lived for two years in the State of Queensland where there is no death penalty, and though it is often argued that people are more inclined to do certain deeds in the absence of the death penalty, in that State there was, I understand, a lower rate of crime, including murder, than in any other State in Australia and almost any other State where the death penalty was in operation. I remember that in the last war we took out men like James Connolly and shot them because they had taken part in the Easter rising in Ireland. According to the reports James Connolly, a man who had had his left leg amputated, was taken from hospital and propped into a chair and a volley of bullets fired into his body. It was a revolting thing for any State to authorise, and for any human beings to be asked to do under military discipline.

I remember going with the hon. Member for Bridgeton to investigate conditions in Ireland during the time of very serious trouble there. I went to Kilmainham Gaol and I was shown the little houses from which at two o'clock in the morning men were taken one by one and placed along a wall of sandbags and shot. They were killed by order of the soldiers. There were ten men killed, and one of these three hours before had been married in that prison. They were killed because they were people who believed they were fighting for democracy in their country against the imperialism imposed, on them, such as that imposed by Hitler in Czechoslovakia. In these conditions I look back with a feeling of revulsion that a country of which I happen to be a citizen has acts of that kind staining its whole history. It may be as a result of hatred and passion that acts of that kind are permitted. Hatred comes into many actions during a period of war. For example, men may be seized although they may not be intending to assist the enemy. You may be able to prove a satisfactory case against them before a court-martial. They are men supposed to be guilty of a certain crime, but it may be that these individuals are wrongly convicted. They are brought out before a firing squad, and sometimes it is discovered afterwards that they were wrongly convicted.

You cannot redeem the life you have taken away, but if some other form of punishment had been devised, there would be the possibility of redress. Time also heals many wounds. In spite of the fact that we have a tremendous number of well-meaning assurances from the Front Bench which one is loth not to accept, we have seen statements of the ex-Prime Minister in regard to conscientious objectors which have been offered as evidence before the tribunals turned down. Their reply has been that they have nothing to do with what the Prime Minister had said in the House of Commons, but that it was the Act with which they were dealing and the Act as they interpreted it.

If I went into an area during a period of extreme crisis during this war and made a very strong anti-war speech saying that the slaughter was all wrong, that we should reason these things out and get down to settling things at the earliest possible moment, that could be interpreted as designed to assist the enemy in so far as it would weaken our morale or war effort. Although it is not specifically in the Bill, I am asking the Minister if he can give a complete assurance that this Measure is not designed to limit in any way any genuine anti-war propaganda or peace propaganda in this country. If he can give that assurance I am completely satisfied in relation to the Measure, with the exception of the point I have mentioned, that I am always opposed to the death penalty on principle. This nation to-day is being led to disaster by a group of people who have no vision and courage to bring the slaughter to an end. In these circumstances I am legitimately entitled to go to the human beings whose sons are being thrown into the furnace and to say that I think the whole basis is wrong and that intelligence should be allowed to operate. I am entitled to tell them that we are living in a changing world where everything is changing and reason should be allowed to prevail. I think that I am rendering a service to the country and its citizens in acting as a brake on the extreme jingoes in the Government, outside the Government and in the Press. I say that we are entitled to express that point of view, and I ask the Minister to give a very definite and specific assurance that this Bill will at no time be used against those in this country who attempt to carry on genuine peace or anti-war propaganda, and that it is only designed to deal with those attempting to betray the country in a desperate effort to assist Germany in the war.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

I am glad to support this Bill before the House, although I have very deep sympathy with those who have expressed themselves as, opposed to capital punishment and who have held the very Christian doctrine that capital punishment in peace-time should not be carried into effect. But is there any Member in the House who can say that the nation employed in this struggle to-day is doing it on broad Christian principles? The conduct of this war necessitates the abandonment of what we know to be Christian principles, and it could not be conducted if we attempted to base our operations upon the turning of one cheek to the enemy after having been struck upon the other. It may be demonstrated mathematically that in peace-time, in those countries where capital punishment for murder has been abandoned, there has not been thereby any increase of crime and that possibly there has been a diminution. Surely in the days of war we are living under entirely different conditions. We have witnessed on the Continent a veritable army of treacherously-minded persons prepared at all hazards to bring down those whom they deem to be their enemy. They are prepared to do so upon the highest grounds of patriotism. Does anyone imagine that, if we alone among the European nations were prepared to abandon the death penalty for acts of treachery—and let it be remembered that one act of treachery may mean the death of large numbers of innocent citizens, belligerent or otherwise—there would not be a great increase in the number of traitors from foreign countries?

I see the greatest danger in abandoning the severest punishment which can be inflicted for treachery. The traitor is prepared to run great risks, but if the heads of the State which is our enemy could advise their subjects that this country had abandoned the severest penalty of capital punishment in favour of a term of long imprisonment, would that not be an enormous incentive for an increase in the number of those prepared to take up weapons in defence of what they believe to be the highest patriotism for their own country? Everyone knows that after the war there may be, and is likely to be, a plan for exchanging political and other prisoners. One can foresee that perhaps those guilty of acts of treachery, instead of being executed, might be exchanged for prisoners in Germany. If we abolished capital punishment, there would undoubtedly be an increase in the treachery to which this country is at the present moment subjected.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)

I had the honour to be the chairman of the Select Committee on Capital Punishment, which sat throughout 1930. I may tell the House that I put aside practically every other form of work for that whole year to give my mind fully to the preparation of that Committee's report. We brought evidence from countries near and far which had abolished the death penalty and from countries which had continued it. I desire to say that what we were dealing with then is not the question before the House to-day. We were dealing with offences before civil courts in times of peace, and our terms of reference were: That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the question of capital punishment in cases tried by civil courts in time of peace. The same is borne out by our recommendation at the end of 1930, which was in these words: That a Bill be introduced and passed into law during the present Session providing for the abolition of the death penalty for an experimental period of five years in cases tried in civil courts in times of peace. The same thing was borne out by the Motion proposed in this House by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) on 16th November, 1938: That this House would welcome legislation by which the death penalty should be abolished in times of peace for an experimental period of five years. I may remind the House that that Motion was carried by 114 to 89. On what grounds was the report adopted and that Motion carried? One of the main considerations was one which has been stated to-day, particularly by the hon. Member for Abingdon(Sir R. Glyn)—the deterrency of the death penalty. After long consideration we came to the conclusion that that aspect had been greatly exaggerated, that in many cases it was not a deterrent at all, and that there were alternative deterrents that could be considered and that were described. Our conclusion on the subject of deterrency was: That its efficacy as a deterrent was a matter of conjecture, and that it was not justifiable to retain such a revolting penalty on the precarious basis of mere supposition. We were dealing with peace-time and with offences that could be tried by civil courts. But if the death penalty is not a deterrent in peace-time, as we thought we had proved, it cannot be argued that it must be a deterrent in war-time. If it is a necessity, as has been argued, in war-time you are giving away your ground for arguing that it is not a deterrent in peace-time. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), although I cannot seek to attain his experience in law on these matters. He pointed out that there was already in the law dealing with treason sufficient ground for dealing fully with all these cases. It was long before Scotland came into line with England in this matter. It was not until 1889, in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act, that murder and treason were put together as the two remaining subjects for the death penalty. I believe that the law itself is a little wider, but in practice these are the two offences for which the death penalty can be applied in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) thought that if the death penalty was applied more widely, we should be able very likely to deter many people from committing this offence, but that raises the whole question of deterrency with which I have dealt.

War must always be brutal, and it will become more brutal the longer it lasts. We cannot humanise this dreadful orgy of "man's inhumanity to man," but there is no reason why we should in any way make it more revolting, or be forced to do anything that might lead us to say we were departing from our strict principles. I content myself with a protest against this provision. We do not desire to divide the House on the subject, but I want to make my protest. I feel that I could not be true to my deepest convictions if I agreed to an extension of the death penalty, or to what the Home Secretary called the application of greater stringency and the extension of the limits in which it could apply. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting went the length of saying that there were times when in face of great emergency we should be ready to put principle aside. I have no doubt that many would agree with that. Therein, I differ. Anyone familiar with the history of the Co-operative movement will remember that one of its pioneers was William Cooper, on whose grave there is this inscription: He acted on principle always, everywhere, and in all circumstances. It is because I should like to make that my own principle that I utter my humble protest against the seeming extension of the death penalty.

7.7 p.m.

Miss Rathbone

I want to raise a point with regard to Clause 2 (1, b) dealing with enemy aliens. I gather that the reason for making it possible to deal with enemy aliens, if the Attorney-General thinks fit, before a court-martial and not by a procedure which would apply to others is that the provision is intended to apply to aliens like parachutists in disguise or to people who are, in fact, soldiers. There is a difficulty with regard to a civil enemy alien who is a refugee in this country and is resident as a civilian. There may be a danger in applying the different machinery of a court-martial rather than an ordinary court to such a person. In time of war the feeling of prejudice that exists against aliens might cause a court-martial, which is composed of people who are not so cognisant of the principles of justice as an ordinary court, to deal with enemy aliens in a way in which they would not be dealt with if they came before an ordinary court. May we know from the Home Secretary whether it is the intention only to deal with enemy aliens under this Clause by court-martial if they are de facto soldiers? Otherwise, I am afraid that injustice might be done under this Bill if fear and panic grow, and it was used against enemy aliens who were ordinary civilians and who might be tempted to help their fellow countrymen in some way. I do not say that they should not be severely punished, but one would like to be sure that they were tried by machinery which dealt with them in a judicial spirit and not in the spirit of a court martial, which is usually composed of people who have not the same knowledge of judicial procedure as other courts. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) asked whether this Bill could be used against people who are only preaching peace or speaking against the war. The right hon. Gentleman will give his own reply, but, reading this Bill, I do not think it is intended to be used in cases where people are merely engaged in peace propaganda.

Mr. McGovern

But it is in this letter.

Sir J. Anderson

The letter in question, if I am not mistaken, was concerned with Amendments to two Regulations which had nothing to do with this Bill at all. The Amendments to the Regulations were, in fact, made I think, last Thursday. There is no question of this Bill being concerned in that connection.

Miss Rathbone

I imagined that that was probably so. What I want to say is that I think a good many of us who are passionate supporters of free speech, and very much on our guard, even in war time, against any infringements of the right of free speech, have been feeling recently that when a country is fighting for its life there are, and ought to be, limits to the extent to which a dissident minority can sabotage it, in the moral sense, try to weaken the national effort, by doing everything they can to spread a spirit of defeatism and of suspicion as to the causes of the war. Many of us who are, to use the common phrase, "Left wing," and have upheld in all circumstances the rights of minorities to speak the truth as they see it, are growing anxious about the extent, and to some degree about the effect, of propaganda of the kind carried on by the Communist party, by the Fascist party and even by some who take the view of the hon. Member for Shettleston, who are preaching all the time that this is a capitalist war, a war of aggression and an unnecessary war. That is weakening the national effort.

The right hon. Gentleman has already explained that that does not come under the terms of this Bill, but I think we should very much like to know what are the limits which are to be placed upon the rights of dissident minorities to weaken the national effort by at any rate public expositions of their views as to the futility and the uselessness of the present war. I say that with great reluctance, because a little while ago I could not imagine supporting any kind of limitation upon freedom of speech, but unless it is checked in a reasonable way I feel that as the sense of the national danger grows, there will be a very ugly boiling-up of mob indignation and we may be rushed into extreme action against a dissident majority. I think many of us are doubtful how far that kind of peace propaganda or, rather, anti-war propaganda can be carried on under the present law and what are the Government's intentions with regard to it.

7.14 p.m.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) that the matter to which she last referred does require some consideration. I think it is clear, however, that nothing of what is in her mind comes within the terms of Clause 1 of this Bill. I should like to correct another assumption which the hon. Lady made. She rather suggested that courts-martial might be less careful of justice than an ordinary court of law in a case and of the greater necessity for proper procedure. While the procedure of a court-martial is somewhat different, I can assure her from my experience, which for a short time was quite extensive, that there is no fairer tribunal than a court-martial, and if I had the choice of appearing before some civil courts or before a court-martial, I should probably prefer the court-martial.

Mr. Silverman

Has the hon. and gallant Member observed that if someone is to be the subject of a civil indictment for an offence under this Bill, the proceedings cannot start unless the Attorney-General has given his fiat, but that in the case of the enemy alien who is to be tried by court-martial proceedings can be started without anybody's fiat, apparently at the will of anybody at all?

Major Milner

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, the position is precisely the contrary. Clause 2 (1, b) says: Any enemy alien may, if the Attorney-General so directs, be prosecuted for an offence against this Act before a court martial.

Mr. Silverman

I read that, and I see what the hon. and gallant Member means, but if he will look lower down on the same page, he will see that Sub-section (2) says: No prosecution in respect of any offence against this Act shall be instituted, otherwise than by way of proceedings for a trial by court martial, except by, or with the consent of, the Attorney-General.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

Having said it in the first two lines of the page, it is not necessary to say it again. My consent having been already provided for in (I, b) in the case of a court martial, it was necessary from the point of view of drafting to take it out from the words dealing with civil prosecutions below.

Major Milner

In fact, no prosecution in respect of any offence by any person can be taken under this Act except by and with the consent of the Attorney-General, and therefore such consent must be necessary before any enemy alien can be prosecuted before a court martial. However that may be, I felt some little doubt in my mind as to the position I should adopt towards this Bill, because of the fact that some nine or ten years ago I served under the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) on the Select Committee which considered capital punishment and was one of those who, having no preconceived notions on the matter and coming to my conclusion on the evidence alone, was convinced that the abolition of capital punishment was desirable. But I think I should make it clear, as did the hon. Member for Coat-bridge, that at no time had that committee under consideration anything other than the abolition of capital punishment in peace-time. Quite clearly, entirely different considerations may arise in the present circumstances, and none of us who felt it right to come to one conclusion whilst sitting on that committee need be under any difficulty in coming to another conclusion in the present circumstances, when we are at war.

I am bound to say that when a Government, any Government, comes to the House in the present circumstances of the country and asks for powers, unless there is some strong overriding reason for refusing them, it is the bounden duty of all of us to grant the powers for which they ask. It seems to me that the present circumstances are so novel, the consequences may be so serious and the matters at stake are so important, that we ought not to hesitate a moment to grant to the Government the fullest possible powers. They are, of course, only enabling powers. The Government may or may not act upon them, but they necessarily require to have the fullest possible powers in order to enable them to bring the war to a successful conclusion at the earliest possible date. Therefore I cannot refuse in any way to change my opinion because at one time, and in entirely different circumstances, namely, peace-time, I was in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. Now I feel myself bound to support the Government in regard to the Bill.

For the greater consolation of some of my hon. Friends, I would point out that there are obvious safeguards in the Bill. In the first place, there is the necessity for the Attorney-General's fiat, as my hon. Friend has already appreciated. That is a very substantial safeguard, because that fiat would be given only in serious and important cases. There is another safeguard, which may offer some consolation to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey), who is concerned, as I was on first reading the Bill, to ensure if possible that it was not essential in every case, after a verdict of "Guilty" had been brought in, that the death penalty should necessarily be inflicted. I am aware that this is the law at present in regard to murder, and indeed in regard to treason and one or two other offences, but the Home Secretary pointed out that it would be competent for the Attorney-General so to conduct a prosecution as to join other and lesser offences with those constituting the charge under the Bill. In that way, a loophole would be found whereby, in less serious cases of offences coming under the Bill, it would be possible for the court to award a less penalty than death. That consolation may be less satisfactory than the hon. Member might wish, but, along with the safeguard of the Attorney-General's fiat, it seems to me to make a very considerable difference, and it ought to be some consolation.

I was a little troubled that the word "treachery" should be brought into the law. It seems a very atrocious and objectionable word. [Hon. Members: "Treacherable."] A treacherable offence, I agree, but I do not think the word "treachery" has ever been used in the English law before. I wondered why we could not have retained the old word "treason." I imagine that the Attorney-General will explain that the word "treachery" may be more easily understood by the great majority of the people than the old term "treason," which has all sorts of connotations and which, except in war time, we have nothing of in this country. The arguments advanced by the Home Secretary for the bringing-in of this Bill, notwithstanding the existing law of treason, were good. It is always desirable to remove doubts, and there are apparently doubts in regard to the strict application of the law to treason. For this reason the Bill is justified.

The Home Secretary also made it clear that it was desirable to do another advantageous thing, which was to do away with all the old trappings connected with the trial of the offence of treason. As I understood it, any offence under the Bill will be tried before the ordinary courts and according to the ordinary methods, except in those cases where it is, for reasons which I should rather like the Attorney-General to indicate to us, right and proper to have the case tried before a court martial. I regard the Bill as an important and regrettable necessity, but it is our bounden duty to give the Government, in the present circumstances, all the powers for which they ask.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

I do not want to detain the House for any length of time on the Bill, which is, of course, a legacy from the previous Government, as is demonstrated by the fact that the two Secretaries of State whose names appear on the back of the Bill are no longer in the positions they occupied when the Bill was prepared. It is regrettable, at this time of day, that there should be a development of this kind, and an extension, or a seeming extension, of capital punishment, for any offence. The desire, surely, is to prevent any offender from committing an offence again, and that aim is attained most effectively, of course, by making it impossible for him to do anything at all; but the power of taking away life by human agency cannot be exercised in the reverse direction in respect of the same individual. You cannot give back what you take away, and I regret that man should take upon himself the responsibility of taking away life. The offender might, in the end, otherwise be a changed man, but the opportunity for that change is taken away. To take away life itself is one of the strongest arguments against capital punishment.

No one would seek to condone the offence with which the Bill seeks to deal. No one with any spirit of patriotism at all would seek to defend treachery against the country to which he belongs. I come from the countryside of Sir Walter Scott, who breathed patriotism in many of his poems, including, of course, the poem which says: Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said 'This is my own, ray native land?' I cannot possibly condone such an act as treachery against my country. No one could do so with that sort of spirit born and bred in him. I hope that there is no need ostensibly to dissociate myself from the idea of questioning the wisdom of the Bill or to protest that the offence of treachery against one's country is abhorrent to me. Much reference has been made to the deterrent effectiveness of capital punishment. The standing refutation of capital punishment as a deterrent is to be found across the way, in New Scotland Yard, where, in the museum, there is a reference to a hangman who had hanged many men finally coming to the gallows himself. I know that the argument could be used in the reverse way and that it could be said that he had become so accustomed to seeing people pass, by his agency, out of this life in that way that he thought nothing of the penalty being inflicted upon himself.

I got up, however, not so much to make these or any general observations on the Bill, as to ask that a point might be cleared up that was left unanswered by the Home Secretary when he made his first announcement in the House of this Bill being prepared. On that occasion the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) seemed to urge the Home Secretary to use the powers of the new Bill to deal with what he wanted to describe as the subversive activities of the Oxford Group. He did not use that name, because he does not like the idea of the name of Oxford being associated with those who stand for moral rearmament. I intervened when that question was put, to indicate that the hon. Member for Oxford University was wrong in talking about moral disarmament, and I corrected him by saying it was moral rearmament, and that I hoped that the Home Secretary had not in mind to deal with the activities of that group in any new punitive legislation. The activities of that group and those who are endeavouring at the present time to extend the practice of Christian principles are wholly beneficial to this country, as it seems to me. It is certain that in many cases they have helped the morale of people of this country. I claim that they are not in any way subversive to the unity of this country at the present time, and I hope that on these considerations the Attorney-General can answer categorically the question which was left unanswered by the Home Secretary on that afternoon when we had the intimation of this legislation coming forward. I hope also that the Attorney-General will be able clearly to say that not only by means of this Bill, but by means of any other punitive legislation, there is no intention whatever to deal with the activities of the Oxford Group, who stand for moral rearmament in this country.

7.32 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I think there must be some confusion in the minds of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken and of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) in this sense, that I think they have regarded statements which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made with regard to propaganda as statements made with reference to this Bill. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been certain Amendments introduced into the Regulation dealing with propaganda, and I think it was in connection with those Amendments that the reference to the Oxford Group arose. I can give a complete and categorical assurance that this Bill is not directed against propaganda. I think that a glance once more at Clause 1 of the Bill should really satisfy hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that point.

Mr. McGovern

Would it be against the State?

The Attorney-General

No. The first thing that has to be proved is intent to help the enemy. If your object is to raise your own wages or some other industrial object, you are outside this Bill altogether. First of all you have to prove intent to help the enemy; you not only have to prove that, but the act has to be one which will assist the naval, military or air operations of the enemy, or impede the naval, military or air operations of our own country or endanger life. I think that with that statement it really is clear that propaganda which the hon. Gentle- man had in mind and the activities, as I understand, of the Oxford Group have nothing whatever to do with the matter which is dealt with in this Bill.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to interrupt him? He will remember, in connection with the Official Secrets Act that his predecessor in office gave an assurance that the Official Secrets Act had nothing to do with a particular kind of writing or utterance with regard to secrets, and then the court afterwards decided that it had; there was then the agitation to secure the repeal of the Official Secrets Act. We are concerned in the same way to-day. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gives the assurance that it has not to do with propaganda, but it is quite conceivable that the court afterwards will say, "You said so and so. The fact that you said so and so proves that you had intent to help the enemy."

Miss Rathbone

If I may be allowed, may I put it in this way? May not the court hold that anyone who tries to prevent his fellow countrymen from fighting the enemy has an intention to help the enemy, as indeed the effect of that action obviously is, and does not the anxiety of the two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken show that they are conscious that the effect of their propaganda is to help the enemy and they are afraid that the courts may think that too?

The Attorney-General

I venture to suggest that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen should look at the Bill. I do not think they can really come to any other conclusion than that which I have indicated to the House. Everybody familiar with criminal procedure knows that if you have to prove such an intent as is here provided—an intent to help the enemy—you have to satisfy the jury beyond all reasonable doubt that there was such an intent in the mind of the prisoner. When that is coupled with the further words: does, or attempts or conspires….to do, any act. which is designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy, to impede such operations of His Majesty's Forces…. I really do not think that anyone can have any doubt as to the accuracy of what I have said.

Mr. Silverman

I think everybody appreciates that the intention of the Bill is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but it is obvious from the Debate that there are doubts, and I would like to put one doubt of my own. It may well be that there is nothing in it, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can clear it up, I shall be grateful. I am looking at those words, "with intent to help the enemy," and I agree that that is the first thing which the prosecution would have to prove. The onus of proving that would lie upon the prosecution. I see the importance of that fact, but is there not a legal rule that the court may infer an intention? If you prove that the consequence of an act is to do these things defined in the Clause, and if it is a presumption of law that every man intends the reasonable consequences of his act, then the prosecution might escape by saying, "I cannot prove any actual intention positively, but I can and I do prove that it is a reasonable consequence of this act that it will have this effect; as every man is presumed to intend reasonable consequences I have proved reasonable consequences, and I have therefore proved the intent." I am certain that that is not what the Government had in mind or what they desired, but is there not possibly a danger there? If so, could it not be removed in some way?

The Attorney-General

I really do not think there could be any such danger. The words are quite plain. We are dealing with a case of a most serious character—a capital charge—where the burden on the prosecution has to be fulfilled to the last scintilla, if one may use that expression, and although, of course, the circumstances may build up evidence from which a jury may draw an intent—after all, the last arbiters are the jury—

Mr. Stephen

A jury of Miss Rathbones.

The Attorney-General

—I cannot imagine any possible subject matter in which 12 fair-minded Englishmen or Englishwomen would be more completely satisfied that criminal intent had to be proved than in a case of this kind. I will now turn to a point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). He suggested that this was legislation which might have been prepared in a panic in view of the gravity of the immediate situation. I can assure him that that is not so. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, Clause 1, with the possible exception of one point, does not alter the law as it stands. It creates no new capital offence. The hon. Gentleman referred in particular to one of the reasons given by my right hon. Friend, namely, the possibility of the surreptitious alien who might not be within the doctrine of local allegiance. As the person who is likely to furnish my right hon. Friend with the details of prosecutions, I can assure the hon. Member that the other reason was one to which the Government attach great importance, and to which I, as Attorney-General, attach great importance. Treason trials are full of the most archaic rules. I think I am right in saying that the names and addresses of jurymen have to be served on the prisoner a certain period before the trial. There are technical rules which have to be observed. The trial normally takes place before three judges. When we came to look into the details more carefully, it became obvious to me, in my capacity as Attorney-General, that it was most desirable that we should have the ordinary criminal procedure, and not the special treason procedure.

That brings me to the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner)—why "Treachery"? We thought that it would only create confusion if we called this a Treason Bill, because one of the purposes is to enable similar acts to be dealt with by different procedure. We chose "Treachery," which is a good English word for an extremely ignoble and contemptible act, as being likely to avoid the confusion which might have arisen if we had used the word "Treason."

I come to the question of the death penalty. That, of course, is one of those matters on which nothing that I said would convince people who think differently from me, and—if they do not think it amiss—nothing they said would convince me. Everybody respects the sincerity of the views expressed by the hon. Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), Nelson and Colne, and others. I should have thought that the particular crime dealt with by this Bill in war-time was appropriate for the death penalty if any human act ever was. We are dealing with men who, by deliberate acts, assist or attempt to assist the enemies of this country in their military operations: that is to say, in killing our own countrymen; or who impede our own countrymen, so making it more probable that they will be killed. The hon. Gentleman, whom I do not see in his place, referred to the deterrent effect. One can argue about that, but that an act of this kind should be subject to the ultimate penalty is, I believe, in accordance with the desire of the vast majority of this House and of the country. It is an existing provision of our law. It is the case that the hon. Member's committee recommended only an experimental period of five years' exemption from the death penalty. No one would suggest that this is a good moment for starting such an experimental period.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

Will the Attorney-General say what would happen in the event of some misunderstanding occurring, say, in an engineering shop or a shipyard, such as occurred in the last war? If any of us went there and took the part of the men, as we did in the last war, would this Act operate, as the Defence of the Realm Act did, so that we could be arrested?

The Attorney-General

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when I made my case. I can assure him that this Bill has nothing whatever to do with the activities which, he has said, he himself undertook in the last war. There may well be other Bills, with other Regulations, but this Bill has nothing to do with any activities such as were followed by the hon. Gentleman in the last war.

I was asked one question by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). He is not in his place, but he explained to me that he had to go away on a matter of importance. He asked what was the position of an enemy who came down in a parachute, in plain clothes. Was he to be dealt with under this Bill or to be dealt with by more direct military action? It depends on the capacity in which he comes. If an enemy, whether an officer or not, drops in a parachute, in plain clothes, not as part of an attack, and not armed, but hoping that he will not be seen, and that he may do an act of espionage of the ordinary kind, he will be a perfectly appropriate person to be dealt with under this Bill. But if he comes, in plain clothes, as part of an attacking force, he may be dealt with in the same way as people who attack this country in uniform, with this added disadvantage, that if attacking in plain clothes, people do not have the privileges which attach under international law to people in uniform, and if caught, they may be shot.

The hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) referred to enemy aliens. One reason why this power is in the Bill is to meet the case of the enemy alien who is a member of the armed Forces. If he is caught here, it is more appropriate that he should be dealt with by a court martial; and that is one of the reasons for this provision. I should like to associate myself with what the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds said in repudiating the criticisms which the hon. Lady passed on courts martial. I think it is quite untrue to say that they are not familiar with the forms of justice and not bound by rules of law. Everyone who has gone into this question, thinking that courts martial might have been prejudiced, has been immensely struck, not only by the fairness of the court martial, but by the care with which in the proceedings everything is considered that is in favour of the prisoner. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) dealt with his Amendment in his speech, and as he has been allowed that latitude, I shall be prepared to deal with the Amendment in my speech, if he will undertake not to move his Amendment in Committee, but if we are to have it all over again, I do not think that the House would want to hear my observations upon it twice. I very much appreciate the attitude taken up by those who, though bitterly opposed to the death penalty, will not seek to divide the House, and I very much hope that we may get the Second Reading of the Bill without a Division.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I want to say a few words because of the intervention of the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). I was somewhat doubtful, in discussing this Bill with my colleague the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), and I was inclined to take the point of view of the Attorney-General that the intent to help the enemy governed the Clause and made it absolutely proof against any wrongful decision in the court afterwards. I took that point of view in the discussion with my hon. Friend, but it seems from the debate that has taken place that the Attorney-General and myself are wrong. We have had the statement by the hon. Lady that my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston and myself, because of the fact that we are anxious to carry on propaganda for peace, are aware that our propaganda for peace has the effect of helping the enemy, and that therefore our anxiety arises because we are aware of that fact.

The Attorney-General

To our mutual comfort, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) is not a court.

Mr. Stephen

That is just where I think the Attorney-General is making a mistake. The hon. Lady is a court. There is the possibility of her being one of the jury of 12 that would decide, and I intervened to say that I did not realise, when I argued this matter with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Shettleston, that there were people in this country whose minds were so unfair that they could come to a decision such as that to which the hon. Lady has evidently come with regard to propaganda like that which my hon. Friends and I have carried on with regard to peace.

Miss Rathbone

I do not suggest that propaganda of the kind that the hon. Member carries on ought to come under the Bill, but I was amused to note that he himself evidently felt uneasy lest it should be recognised that, in preaching to fellow countrymen that they should not fight in the present war, they were helping the enemy, and that it might be held by the court in future that he had shown an intention to help the enemy. The suggestion originally came from the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). He showed some doubt, or why should he have raised the point? I would not have raised it if he had not.

Mr. McGovern

The point was that I felt that certain Bills were interpreted in a certain way, and I had evidence of Acts being interpreted in that way by judges. Therefore I said that, no matter what might be the intention, people would use this Measure in order to down those who were engaged on peace propaganda. I consider it to be the most patriotic duty of any citizen to try to end the war at the earliest possible moment. I believe that certain people on juries would need no direction but their prejudice to enable them to decide the fate of such a person.

Mr. Stephen

I think that the intervention of the hon. Lady and of myself ought to bring home to the Attorney-General that there is some difficulty still in connection with this Clause. I accept his assurance. I listened to the Home Secretary when he made his speech on the Second Reading, and I was sure that it was the intention of the Government that there should be nothing in the way of interference with the propaganda of people who took a very strong pacifist point of view, but the very intervention of the hon. Lady shows the danger that there is in this matter. I would say to her that I have no feeling whatever that our propaganda is a help to the enemy. I think that the propaganda carried on by the hon. Lady herself in the past in so many of her statements was of much more assistance to the enemy than any of the peace propaganda that has been carried on by my hon. Friends and myself. I had no feeling myself that any such propaganda could be held by any reasonable person such as would be on a jury to be of help to the enemy. Evidently my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston was right and I was wrong in that respect, since the hon. Lady can take such a view.

I also would say this to the Attorney-General. The present trial procedure is archaic, and much of it is possibly due to the fact that the penalty is a very severe penalty. It is not only the sentence of death but also the ignominy and the hatefulness to be condemned not only to death, but to death as a traitor and as one who has been guilty of treason. All the shame that is attached to it has tended to make the procedure in a trial such as would allow the defence every possible opportunity of avoiding such a condemnation if the accused had not been guilty of the crime. It is as well that that should be borne in mind in the consideration of this Measure. I agree that any Government have to take steps to deal effectively with the possibility of treachery and in keeping treacherous attempts from having any measure of success. It is a duty and a responsibility upon any Government to see that treachery is not allowed to develop in the country, but, at the same time, it is also necessary that the Government should see that, in putting a Measure through the House to deal with treachery, it could not be applied to innocent citizens who might become the victims of people of a strange mentality such as that which the hon. Lady has shown herself to possess.

8.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen (Armagh)

I wish to refer to a matter which was mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and the Attorney-General—the question of reference to courts-martial and the power of the Home Secretary to have members of His Majesty's Forces dealt with under the Naval Discipline Act, the Army Act or the Air Force Act by courts-martial have conducted many courts-martial during the course of my service, and I must say that, on the whole, I believe a court-martial to be a very fair court. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if it errs at all, it errs on the side of leniency, and that is not a very bad fault. But there are occasions where a culprit may be brought up before a gentleman who has not the slightest idea of the law. I am afraid the Attorney-General has not read the recommendations of the committee set up to consider the question of courts-martial.

The Attorney-General

It is because I have that report that I made my speech.

Sir W. Allen

I am much surprised at the statement which the Attorney-General has just made, because the report contains recommendations which entirely alter the position of courts martial. I say deliberately that I have seen courts martial that have not had, as members, a single representative with any knowledge of the law. We have been accustomed to call a certain individual the Judge Advocate-General. In fact, he may be neither a judge, nor an advocate, nor a general. That frequently happens. Then there is a gentleman, who conducts the case for the prosecution and who is called a Judge Advocate although he is neither a judge nor an advocate. These gentlemen will, I have no doubt, exercise their common sense as the case may be presented to them, but without some knowledge of the law there is a possibility of a mistake being made. If 99 per cent. of the courts martial cases are satisfactory, and there is one which is unsatisfactory through someone being condemned to death by gentlemen who have no knowledge of the law, I think it is time that the Attorney-General took some action with regard to the recommendations of the committee which sat with reference to the alteration of the personnel of these courts martial. I have known cases of that kind myself, and it is because I have known these cases that I speak strongly.

I know of one case that was illegally judged by a court martial. That illegality was made apparent by men who had no knowledge of the law. Personally, if it were my own case, I would prefer to go opposite men who have some knowledge of the administration of British law. I have already stated that I do not wish to condemn Service courts martial. I believe that on the whole they act very legally and that the individuals brought before them do, as a rule, get very fair, common sense judgments, but if there is a case of an individual who is "crimed" and made to suffer the penalty of death, then I hold—and I do not believe the Attorney-General can dispute it—that some men at least on a court martial ought to know something of the law. They need not at the present moment, and I think it is high time, therefore, that the Attorney-General and the Government took into consideration the recommendations of the committee which considered changes of courts martial personnel.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Because of the many things which have been said and hinted at inside and outside this House I would like to make a few observations on this question. But before making them may I draw attention to the confusion in the minds of some Members as to what is the actual position in this country? The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) does not seem to understand that amendments of Regulations were passed on 9th May which permit of any paper publishing peace propaganda being put out of existence, the press being destroyed and those responsible for the propaganda being sent to prison for seven years' penal servitude. She asked if power is to be taken to deal with propaganda. There is in these Regulations most terrible power to deal with the liberties of the people. It seems that some hon. Members have not read the amended Regulations.

To come to this Bill. Certain questions of loyalty have been raised. My conception of loyalty is not the same as that of representatives of the Bank of England or the big aristocratic landowners. Mine is different. I am prepared to say this: I may go to prison for being loyal to the people of this country, but I will never go to prison for being disloyal. I have a record, as my comrades have, for loyalty, and it is a record which I treasure. A speaker at a trade-union conference the other day deliberately stated that Communists were committing sabotage in factories. That can only be described as the slander of an unprincipled blackguard. I remember the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), myself, and a number of others being brought before the High Court in Edinburgh on a charge of inciting to riot and rioting. In the course of the riot some loose element in Glasgow did a bit of looting, so the prosecution decided to put across a dirty one and to the indictment added the charge of theft. Objection was taken to that, and the Judge in the case, Lord Scott Dixon, said: "These prisoners are faced with a very serious charge, a charge on which, if they are found guilty, heavy penalties may be imposed. But their moral character and their integrity are not in question." He ruled out this particular charge of the indictment. This was a judge who, when the fire and smoke had died away, was able to give a cool judgment, but we cannot expect, at a time like this, when every kind of political prejudice is aroused, the same cool judgment. We have, however, a right to protest with all the power we possess against any suggestion that our comrades in the factories would dream of committing such a crime. We seek to get the respect of the workers in the factories; it is our only hope of making progress, and you can never get the respect and confidence of your fellow workers if you are inefficient and lazy. In the factories the men who are respected are those who keep good time, give good service, and in whom their fellow workers can place trust and confidence. We are revolutionaries. We are against the ruling class, but never in any circumstances can we be accused of criminal action.

This Bill is presumably against the Fifth Column. The Fifth Column in this country is now trying to shield itself by attacking the Communists and the pacifists. It is the Fifth Column who seek to destroy working-class organisations and the democratic forces within a country in order to prepare the way for Fascism. Take Austria, or Norway, or Denmark, or Holland. Of what was the Fifth Column composed in those countries? It was composed of Nazi agents and their associates in the ruling class. I challenge any hon. Member. You cannot give me one case where in any of these countries the Fifth Column was composed of anything other than Nazi agents and their associates in the ruling class. No representatives of the working-class movement were associated with them in any way. Take Seyes In quart in Austria; he was a typical bourgeois. Take Quisling in Norway; was he a representative of the working class? No, I am informed that he is a member of the moral rearmament group.

Mr. Mathers

I have heard that statement made before, and I have made inquiries about it of members of the Oxford Group and of those who have the information, and I am assured definitely that Quisling was never a member of the Oxford Group or associated with moral rearmament.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

This gives me an opportunity of doing what I was about to do, and that is to tell the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that membership of any particular organisation is not affected by this Bill.

Mr. Gallacher

But those who are associated with this kind of work will carry out the acts referred to in the Bill, and I want it to be clear that in no circumstances at any time have representatives of the working-class movement been associated with the Fifth Column, and that just as the bourgeoisie in other countries have been the close associates of the Fascists, so they are in this country. That is where attention should be given, and not by attacking the Communists. In the negotiations which went on with the Soviet Union the ex-Prime Minister informed us that the Soviet Union made a proposal that action should be taken to stop indirect aggression—the work of the Fifth Column—and the ex-Prime Minister said that that would be interfering with the independence of small nations. Can you tell that to Belgium to-day, or to Norway, or to Holland or to Denmark? In these countries the Fifth Column has been at work, and those who advocated that policy in this country have not been ready to take action against the Fifth Column. I am told that Marylebone is the wealthiest, or the second wealthiest, borough in the country. It is full of Conservatives, big, prosperous Conservatives. It always has a Conservative council. Marylebone has a big, beautiful public hall. Will they agree to let their big public hall to the Communists? No. But a little over a year ago they let their big, beautiful public hall to the Nazis so that they could have a muster of their forces. They walked in and out of the front door in uniform as though they already owned London. Some of the Nazis who were there may still have their contacts with the Conservatives in Marylebone.

I suggest that all this talk about the Communists is part of the work of the Fifth Column to provide a shield for themselves. The Communist party will carry on and rally the masses of this country to put an end to the ruling class and extricate the people from this terrible situation. We understand the role of Hitler. Our comrades in Germany are in prisons and concentration camps. If anyone wants to read a condemnation of the ruling class of this country, they have only to read the pamphlet "The British case," by Lord Lloyd, with a preface by Lord Halifax. It is a terrible story of how the Fifth Column has been prepared to assist Hitler, if only he would fit in with their designs. I want to make it clear that I and my friends, as working-class revolutionaries, will do our utmost in the difficult circumstances for the welfare of the people and the masses of the workers. We shall carry on. Those who make these slanders against the Communists are only playing the game of the Fifth Column in this country. Our work will be done and will be continued to be done in the open, directly against the ruling classes, in the interests of the people of this country.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

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

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir Dennis Herbert in the Chair.]

Clause 1.—(Death penalty for treachery.)

8.21 p.m.

Mr. E. Harvey

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, at the end, to add "or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years."

This Amendment, which I foreshadowed in my speech on the Second Reading, does not remove the death penalty from the Bill, but enlarges the power of the court by enabling it, wherever it thinks fit, to impose, in place of the death penalty, a very serious penalty of imprisonment. No one can say that a period of imprisonment not exceeding 20 years is a light penalty; it is a terribly heavy penalty. No one can feel that this grave offence which is being dealt with under the Bill would be lightly dealt with if it were punished by a sentence of that kind; but as has been pointed out, there will almost certainly be cases where, if the court had the power to inflict a penalty other than death, it would prefer to do so. As the Bill is drafted at present, the court would have no power to do so unless there was a subsidiary charge conjoined with the major charge which, under Clause 3 of the Bill, would enable the court to dismiss the major charge and convict on the minor charge. Unless two charges were brought at the same time the court would have no option, if the prisoner were found guilty, but to pronounce sentence of death.

I do not want to enlarge on possible cases, but hon. Members will be able to think of many where a serious offence must be stopped, but yet where we would not wish to have the death penalty imposed. I will mention one instance where clearly there would be technical guilt under Clause 1. If efforts were made by a German in this country to release German military or naval prisoners from an internment camp and enable them to get back to their own country, clearly that would be something which this country would be justified in doing its utmost to prevent; but at the same time, I think it would not be right to inflict the extreme penalty of death on people who, although guilty under the law of this country, were doing what was a natural and human thing from their point of view in helping their own countrymen. I give that as one instance. We can recall how in the last war British subjects were executed for offences under German military law and where if imprisonment, instead of the death penalty, had been inflicted, a great deal of bitterness and ill-feeling would have been prevented and a great moral injustice avoided. I am very anxious that we should make no mistake of that sort. I am sure that would not be the intention of the Government, but we can make doubly sure by giving to the court, under this Bill, the additional power, if it so decides, to impose a sentence of a long term of imprisonment instead of a sentence of death. I hope that the Government will be able to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Cecil Wilson (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I beg to support the Amendment.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Hull, East)

I wish to support the Amendment. At the present time, in connection with our ordinary criminal procedure, there are judges and many other people connected with the administration of the law who think that there should be the possibility of an alternative punishment to the death penalty. In many cases where sentence of death has been passed within a few hours, or sometimes within a few days there has been a reprieve. We have this evening an opportunity of inserting in this Measure a very necessary reform by giving the court an opportunity to come to a decision as to whether a crime is one of the first or the second degree. I believe that the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), in wishing to insert in this Bill the alternative of a long period of imprisonment, wishes to do something which, whether or not it is agreed to on this occasion, will find its way on to the Statute Book in years to come. Therefore, I plead for very serious consideration of this Amendment by the Government. I ask them to give those who will administer the law as far as this Bill is concerned the opportunity, where there are mitigating circumstances, of deciding—instead of waiting even for a reprieve or an act of clemency from the sovereign—to impose an alternative sentence, and to make the punishment fit the crime.

8.28 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

I do not intend on this Amendment to argue, as has been argued to some extent this evening, the whole question of capital punishment, but I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey). I would remind hon. Members that this Bill is designed to deal only with the most serious cases of the base crime of treachery. Less serious cases either of sabotage or espionage, or of acts done with intent to assist the enemy, can be dealt with under Defence Regulations 2 (a) and 2 (b). This Bill is intended to deal only with cases of the most serious character. Unless there is the clearest possible evidence of all the most serious elements in the charge, undoubtedly the prosecution will exercise the right under Clause 3 to join with the more serious charge other charges under the Defence Regulations to which I have referred. Of course that will always be done if there is a doubt in the mind of the prosecutor as to whether a conviction for the more serious charge is likely to be obtained.

The real argument against accepting the Amendment is that it would be contrary to British judicial procedure and to our tradition to give any alternative to the death penalty, and to place upon a judge the intolerable burden of deciding which of those alternatives to choose. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate reminds me that there is no precedent in the whole of our statute law for placing a burden of that kind upon a judge. As I have said, the Bill is designed to meet only the most serious cases imaginable. If the charge is not of that character, other charges can be joined for which smaller penalties are provided by the Defence Regulations and there is always in reserve the prerogative of mercy which is exercised by the Crown through the Home Secretary. On those grounds, I am bound to advise the Com- mittee that this Amendment cannot be accepted.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I wish to put a question regarding a particular type of case which has not, I think, been referred to this afternoon but is very much in the public mind at present. All over the country Local Defence Volunteers are about to be enrolled and a Measure on the subject is shortly to be considered in the House. All sorts of people will come forward to join this volunteer corps. Some will be suitable and some will be unsuitable; some of those who seek to join will probably be members of the Fifth Column and, in fact, traitors. Indeed, I know of one case already in which an intimation has been passed on to the Home Office and I have no doubt that the person concerned will not be enrolled. There may be other cases in which men of that type will offer themselves and be accepted. These men may use their opportunities inside the Defence Force, not for but against this country in a treacherous manner. How will such men be affected by the provisions of this Bill?

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member has cited a case, with which he says he is familiar, of a known traitor. I hope that he has sent particulars of that case to the proper quarter.

Mr. Mander indicated assent.

Mr. Peake

In that event, it undoubtedly can and will be dealt with. In regard to his point about the new Defence Force, I understand that members of that Force will be members of His Majesty's Forces and will therefore be able to avail themselves of the proviso in Clause 2 (1, a) and exercise the option of being tried by court martial. I do not know whether that meets the point which the hon. Member has in mind.

Mr. Mander

They would be liable? They would definitely come under this Measure?

Mr. Peake


Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

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

8.37 p.m.

Dr. Little (Down)

As this Bill applies to Northern Ireland perhaps I may be allowed the opportunity to make some observations on the Third Reading. I do not think there is any part of the Kingdom in which this Measure will be more welcomed than in Northern Ireland and I do not know of any part of the United Kingdom in which there are better preparations at hand for dealing with traitors and those who would betray the State than in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the Government have had the strength and courage to introduce this Measure. To me pacifists, Fascists, Communists, enemy agents and all the rest of that ilk are nuisances. The Minister of Health cannot deal with them and so I am glad that the Minister of Home Security is to deal with them. The Bill will meet a greatly felt need. I felt during the Debate this afternoon that if an inhabitant of a celestial clime had come into our midst he would have thought that Britain was passing through the piping days of peace. We have had an academic Debate on the abolition of capital punishment at a time when we are engaged in a struggle for our very existence and the existence of the State.

This Bill, as I say, meets a much felt need and a great deal of the talk that we have heard in the House this evening does not carry us very far. I certainly felt that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) went very far in bringing in Ireland. I have no doubt that he went to Ireland to see what he wanted to see, but there was another side and a far more gruesome side of the picture which he did not see. These half truths are far worse than downright untruths. We know what we came through in Ireland and we in the north are prepared to deal with traitors. We know they sought to betrayus and that the work is still going on, but thank God we have got them in subjection. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Shettleston is not in his place, because I would say to him that if he will come across to Ireland with my hon. and gal- lant Friend the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) and myself we will show him round and let him see some things that may open his eyes. He would not then probably be so keen on making pietistical statements about making peace with Hitler. How can you make peace with a mad dog? There is no way to deal with him except to put him out of existence, and you cannot deal with traitors if you wear kid gloves.

I support the Third Reading of the Bill because I think it necessary. The circumstances of the hour demand it. If ever there was a Bill which should commend itself to this House in its long existence, it is this one. I support it, secondly, because the Bill meets an urgent need. It is a pressing need that traitors and treacherous people should be dealt with with a highhand. You find down through the ages, in both sacred and secular history, that the treacherous man, the traitor, was the man who was abominated. There is no name in the world which is abominated more than the name of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his Master for a few pieces of silver. I have no sympathy with these people who come into our country and remain in our midst for the purpose of betraying us in a time when we are face to face with the greatest struggle Britain has ever had to encounter. I support the Bill because it makes for the safety of the country. We know what happened in Norway and Denmark and the other countries, and we must see to it that these traitors and treacherous people are put aside. Lastly, I would say that the Bill is a warning to traitors that they must either leave the country or their blood will be on their own heads. The Old Book says: He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong that he hath done. Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. I hope that the Measure will be placed on the Statute Book of this realm and that the Home Secretary will bring down a strong iron fist and put these traitors aside, so that we may face our enemy as a united people and by the grace of God and by His help defeat those who are in battle array against us.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I did not intend to speak on the Third Reading of this Bill, but after the volume of Mount Sinai from the other side I think one should put the point of view of the lowly man of Nazareth. He did say to us to pray: Our Father which art in heaven…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Ireland is not the only loyal spot in the British Isles. I can hear a voice from Scotland, but I was born in Wales, although I am a naturalised Yorkshireman. When the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little) spoke with all his vengeance, I do not think, if I may say so, that it does very much good to the cloth he wears. The Home Secretary will manage this job all right without the hon. Member telling him how to get on with it. I only rose to protest against the way in which he delivered his speech on this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.