Nameless War - Archibald Ramsay

Regulation 18-B

On the 23rd May, 1940, within the first fortnight of Mr Churchill's Premiership, many hundreds of British subjects, a large proportion of them ex-servicemen, were suddenly arrested and thrown into prison under Regulation 18B. For some days the entire press had been conducting a whirlwind campaign, in rising crescendo, against a supposed fifth column in this country, which was declared to be waiting to assist the Germans when they landed.

How untrue this campaign was, is proved by the fact that our most competent Intelligence Service never produced the flimsiest evidence of any such conspiracy, nor evidence of any plan or order relating to it, nor the complicity in such an undertaking of any single man arrested. Had such evidence been forthcoming, those implicated would undoubtedly have been charged and tried, and very properly so. But there was not one case of a man arrested under 18B being a British subject, who was so charged.

Four charges were actually framed against one lady, the wife of a distinguished Admiral, Mrs Nicholson. She was tried by a Judge and jury, and acquitted on all counts. This however, did not prevent her being arrested as she left the Law Courts, acquitted, and being thrown into Holloway Prison under Regulation 18B, where she remained for years.

Regulation 18B was originally introduced to deal with certain members of the I.R.A., who were committing a number of senseless minor outrages in London. Without this Regulation, no liege of His Majesty in the United Kingdom could be arrested and held in prison on suspicion. This practice had long been abandoned in this country, except in short periods of grave proven conspiracy, and on those occasions Habeas Corpus was always suspended.

18B enabled the medieval process of arrest and imprisonment on suspicion to be revived without the suspension of Habeas Corpus. It was, in fact, a return to the system of Lettres de Cachet, by which persons in pre-Revolutionary France were consigned to the Bastille. Here, it should be remembered, that those persons enjoyed full social intercourse with their families, and were allowed their own servants, plate, linen, food and drink whilst in prison; a very different treatment to that meted out to persons held under 18B, whose treatment for some time was little different from ordinary criminals, and, in fact, worse than any remand prisoner.

These I.R.A. outrages were so fatuous in themselves and so apparently meaningless, at a time when there were no sharp differences between this country and the Irish Free State, that I commenced making a number of inquiries. I was not surprised to discover at length, that special members of the I.R.A. had been enrolled for the committing of these outrages; and that they were practically all Communists. I had it on excellent authority that the Left Book Club of Dublin had been actively concerned in the matter; and finally the names of 22 of these men were put into my hands; and again I was informed on excellent authority that they were all Communists. Immediately on receipt of this information I put down a question to the Home Secretary, and offered to supply the necessary information if the matter were taken up. Nothing came of my representations. From these Communist-inspired outrages, however, there resulted Regulation 18B.

Though the I.R.A. were pleaded as an excuse to the House for a Regulation, hardly any of their members were ever arrested under it; but in due course it was employed to arrest and hold for 4 or 5 years, uncharged, very many hundreds of British subjects, whose one common denominator was that they opposed the Jewish power over this country in general; and its exertion to thrust her into a war in purely Jewish interests in particular.

Now Communism is Jewish-controlled. If Marxist Jewry needed a device for securing the assent of parliament to a regulation like 18B, what simpler method could there be to achieve this object, without arousing suspicion as to the real ulterior motive, than arranging for a few communist members of the I.R.A. to plant bombs in the cloakrooms of London stations?

Everyone is supposed to be entitled to their opinion in this country; and, furthermore, where we cannot supply absolute proof, we can say with the Home Secretary, as I do here, that I have "reasonable cause to believe" that this is the real story behind Regulation 18B's enactment.

When the Clause was first introduced into the House, the original wording laid it down quite clearly that the Home Secretary should have the power to detain persons of British birth and origin "If he was satisfied that" such detention was necessary. This terminology was, at least, crystal clear. No other opinion or check upon the Home Secretary's personal and absolute discretion was envisaged: a return, in fact and in very essence, to the Lettres de Cachet and the Star Chamber.

The House of Commons refused absolutely to accept such a clause, or hand away its powers of supervision, and its responsibilities as the guardian of the rights and liberties of the citizen to any individual, be he Cabinet Minister or not.

The Government accordingly had to withdraw the offending sentence; and brought forward a second draft for approval some days later. In this new draft, drawn up, as Government spokesmen laboured to explain, in accordance with the express wishes of the House, the necessary safeguard from arbitrary executive tyranny had been introduced.

For the words "Home Secretary is satisfied that," had been substituted, "Has reasonable cause to believe that." The Government spokesmen explained at length on this occasion that this wording gave the required safeguard. Members of Parliament were led to believe that their wishes had prevailed, and that they were to be the judges of what would or would not be "Reasonable Cause" for continued detention (as was proved in subsequent debates), and a rather uneasy House passed the Clause in this form, and on that understanding.

Two years later, when the Counsel of an 18B prisoner argued in Court along these lines, and demanded some sort of ventilation of his client's case before Members of Parliament or a Court, no less a person than the Attorney- General himself pleaded on the Government's behalf, that the words "Has reasonable cause to believe that," meant precisely the same as "Is satisfied that." There the matter had to rest as far as the Law Courts were concerned, though it was the subject of the most scathing comment of a most eminent Law Lord.

I myself was arrested under this Regulation on 23rd May, 1940, and thrown into Brixton Prison, where I remained in a cell until 26th September, 1944, without any charge being preferred against me, receiving merely a curt notification from the Home Office on the latter date that the order for my detention had been "revoked." A paper of "Particulars" alleged as the reasons for my detention was supplied to me soon after my arrest.

I replied to them during a day's interrogation by the so-called Advisory Committee, before which body I could call no witnesses, did not know who were my accusers, or the accusations they had made, and was not allowed the assistance of a lawyer. These particulars, together with my detailed reply to each, were set out in part II of a Statement I supplied later to the Speaker and Members of the House of Commons; and will be found in the Appendix of this book. They were based upon the untrue assertion that my anti-Communist attitude was bogus, and a cloak for disloyal activities. How untrue this slander was can be easily proved from my previous ten years' record of unceasing attacks on Communism, both by questions and speeches in the House of Commons and outside.