HC Deb 09 February 1836 vol 31 cc210-4
Lord John. Russell

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Registration of Aliens. He proposed to abolish the present Alien-office altogether, and to provide a branch of the Home-office, at which Foreigners, instead of undergoing all the unpleasantries arising from the provisions of the present Alien Act, should simply be called upon to declare their names and where they came from. In fact, instead of imposing any restriction upon foreigners, he merely wished to adopt such a regulation as should enable Government to ascertain with precision, how many foreigners might be in the kingdom at any one time.

Mr. Roebuck

begged to ask whether the noble Lord had ever considered what the effect would be of our having no Alien Act at all. There was a country much larger than England, and in which, therefore, it was much more difficult to detect the presence of foreigners, but in which there was no Alien Act; he meant the United States of America. An alien might traverse the United States from end to end and never be asked his name or condition. And what inconvenience had been found to arise from this perfect liberty accorded to foreigners? None whatever. And what inconvenience, what difficulty or what danger would arise if a similar freedom were allowed in England? It must be notorious to the noble Lord that no passport, no restriction which the ingenuity of man could suggest, was found sufficient in practice to prevent a foreigner from going through a country if he were determined on doing so. Instances were constantly occurring of individuals passing through countries where the system of passports was kept up in the strictest and most rigid manner. There was an instance only a short time since of an individual passing through France and getting into Spain in spite of the vigilance and quickness of the French police. Of what possible use, then, could it be to have even a register of names of the foreigners who might choose to visit England? He recollected that when he was in France, no long time ago, wishing to create as much confusion as possible amongst the authorities who looked to the passports, he took it into his head to tell them that he was Don Carlos. His passport, it was true, described him by a different name, but how were the authorities to know which was right. He merely mentioned this to show how useless a thing a passport was. In fact it was a mere farce. It did no good in the way of protection; it was nothing more nor less than a troublesome, useless, stupid instrument, created by ignorance and continued by absurdity.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the Bill was not intended to impose restrictions upon aliens, but to relieve them from all restrictions of which they could complain. All that was proposed under the Bill was a simple registration of names. He was aware that under the old Alien Act there were many just grounds of complaint, but he would venture to say that there was nothing of which foreigners had ever complained which would not be completely and effectually met and remedied by the present Bill. All the rubbish, all the nonsense, all the injustice, and he might say all the atrocity of the old law would be effectually swept away by the present measure. As his noble Friend had stated, the sole object of the register was to enable Government, at any time, to know the number and quality of the foreigners who might be resident in this country. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Bath, he would only say that other persons might pass for Don Carlos as well as he; and if aliens chose to give in false names, he knew not what remedy there was against it. But after all, that was nothing more than a fraud upon the register, and there was no law that could be made upon the subject which would not be open to the same objection. After the passing of this Act, the alien in England would find nothing in our statute, book restricting in any degree his action, his selection of a place of residence, or his power of locomotion; in short, he would find nothing of which he would have a right to complain.

Mr. Warburton

admitted that the present Bill would remove many vexatious restrictions to which the foreigner in England was at present liable; but when he found the Government inclined to go so far, he only regretted that they would not go one step farther, and remove, every restriction of every kind whatever. Supposing the present measure to pass, how was it to be enforced? The complaint against the old Act was, that it imposed regulations with which the honest would comply, but which the dishonest could always avoid; and that, in the case of the latter, there was no remedy. What remedy was there here? It was provided that every foreigner, on landing in England, should give his name at the Customs, and that the name so given should be forwarded to the Home Office to be registered. Suppose the right name were not given, what remedy was there? And let it be remembered that the very persons against whom it was necessary to have some sort of protection—the very persons who came over here with bad intentions—were the very parties with respect to whom this measure would be inoperative, because they were the very persons who would not give their right names. Was it intended to impose heavy penalties in cases of wrong names being given? or what course was to be taken to make the law operative to any good or useful end? He thought the flimsy regulations imposed by this Bill were wholly unnecessary.

Dr. Bowring

bore his testimony to the inutility of any attempt to prevent the ingress or egress of foreigners, when they were determined to enter or retire from any country, however jealously its frontiers or shores might be watched. A very distinguished person connected with the police in France had told him (Dr. Bow-ring) that the passport system afforded no sort of security whatever, as it was constantly open to abuse. He thought that the time had arrived when England should set an example to the rest of Europe upon this point, and should leave her shores open to every body to come or go as they pleased.

Mr. Hume

was of the same opinion. When he went abroad, and had reason to complain of the operation of the alien law in other countries, he wished to have the opportunity of pointing to the state of the law upon the same subject in England, and bidding the other nations of Europe to follow our example.

Mr. O'Connell

thought that everything which had been said went to prove that the Bill proposed by the noble Lord might be brought in, because it was on all hands admitted that it would abrogate a bad law, and substitute a better one in. its place. What the details of the Bill should be, would be matter of consideration for the Committee. According to the alien law in Ireland, any Protestant, from any part of the world, was immediately naturalized on his arrival there. No Protestant, therefore, could be treated as an alien in Ireland. He had no objection to the continuance of such a law, provided the naturalization were extended to all other persons.

Lord John Russell

had brought in a Bill to do away with all that seemed to him to be vexations under the present law; but he must say, be had been received as if he were a person endeavouring to impose ungrateful restrictions on aliens, and were disposed to keep up the remnants of a system of tyranny and despotism that formerly prevailed. Certainly it was not his intention, when proposing the regulations embraced by his Bill, to render the situation of aliens in this country in any degree painful or irksome to them. His purpose was quite different. But when we were constantly taking the census of the British population, he did not think that aliens should be especially free from all regulation by which their numbers could be ascertained. It seemed to him that it was far less vexatious to require a man entering this country to say where he came from, and where he was going to, than to be knocking at a person's door, and taking a census of his whole family.

Lord Dudley Stuart

concurred with the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that the Bill ought to be referred to a Committee. As it appeared to be the general feeling among hon. Members that aliens should be relieved from any regulation whatsoever with regard to their coming to and going from this country, he hoped his noble Friend, between this and the time for discussing his Bill, would consider whether it would not be better to afford aliens that relief, in as much as whatever regulations might be established must, more or less, occasion to them annoyance. He begged to call the attention of the House to this point, that when the Government asked what harm this Bill could do, it might with equal force be asked, what good could it do? If the Bill should be proceeded with, then, for the sake of consistency, it ought to be enacted, that every Englishman, either going out of or coming into this country, should be bound to present himself before some public officer. But his noble Friend knew very well that such a law could not be enacted, because Englishmen would not submit to it; he therefore thought that, in justice, they ought to relieve foreigners from the oppressiveness of a similar regulation.

Captain Pechell

said that the present Jaw regarding aliens was very oppressive in. one respect, namely, the expensive mode by which the rights of naturalization and denization were to be acquired. He knew many officers who had been for twenty or thirty years in his Majesty's army and navy, who were prevented from acquiring the rights of property by the heavy charges to which they would be exposed in obtaining Bills of naturalization. Leave given.