§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [17th February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ " Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Gretton.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
During the seventeen years I have occupied a seat in this House, I have frequently called attention to the subject matter of this Amendment, the immigration of destitute aliens into our large cities, and especially into the East End of London. Perhaps I may tell the House why I have taken so much interest in this matter. For some years before I became a Member I occupied 939 the post of Director of Criminal Investigation to the Metropolitan Police, and I had a good deal to do with the criminal population of London. I saw the enormous and increasing harm which was being done by criminal aliens, and directed my attention very urgently to the question. I desire to present my case this afternoon in the calmest possible manner, and without unduly encroaching on the patience of the House. In the first place, I should like to say most emphatically that this motion has nothing whatever to do with any religious question. For Jews, as Jews, I have the greatest possible respect; for ability, intelligence, activity and perseverance, I believe them to be absolutely unequalled. I therefore hope that my hon. friends who are members of the Hebrew faith will accept my most positive assurance that I move in this matter without the slightest feeling as regards the Jewish persuasion. There is another point, and that is that I have no feeling whatever against foreigners. I look upon this subject entirely as one of British interest. The sole question is: Is this immigration doing harm to the British working man; is it ousting him in particular districts and trades from his employment? If hon. Members will be so kind as to look at the terms of the Amendment on the Paper they will see that I refer first of all to the great increase of late in the immigration of destitute aliens, coupled with the considerable numbers of such who become a charge on the criminal law of this country, I have provided myself with the latest Returns that are available, and that have been presented by the Board of Trade to this House.
The Alien Return for December last gave figures for the whole of the twelve months ending 31st December, 1902, and under the heading of "Aliens not stated to be en route to America or other places out of the United Kingdom," there appears a total of 81,402, as compared with 70,610 in the year before. I am quite aware that a considerable number of the aliens included in this Return—which I may say by the way is by no means an accurate Return, because it is one taken very much at haphazard, and although it contains the very best information we can get, I am sure the President of the 940 Board of Trade will not pretend that it is a really accurate statement of alien immigration, neither will he deny that it is very much larger than is apparent—I say I am quite aware that a considerable number of these aliens are sailors. The total of these for the two years remained, however, substantially the same, viz., 15,039 in 1901 and 15,146 in 1902, and though we may deduct these, I contend that the importation of foreign sailors is a grievous injury to the British mercantile industry and to British sailors. The decline in the number of British sailors in the mercantile marine is a serious factor in our industrial life at present. But even deducting the whole of the foreign sailors, we have an increase during the twelve months of over 10,000 aliens in this country. I gather from the Board of Trade Returns that that increase is continuing in the present year, for I find that in January the aliens described as "not en route," number 5,443 as against 4,132, an increase of 1,300. These figures fully justify me, then, in calling the attention of this House to undoubted facts of great interest. The great majority of these aliens go to the East End of London, some go to Hull, Grimsby, Leeds, and places on the East coast; but the great majority, 60 per cent. or 70 per cent., undoubtedly find their way into the East End of London. My second point is that a considerable number of these aliens become a charge on the criminal law of this country. I do not say that the great majority of the aliens who come in are dishonest or criminal, or otherwise than civil and industrious individuals, but my contention is that they are ousting our own countrymen from trades in which they are entitled to a considerable proportion of the employment.
Still, among the aliens coming in there is an increasing number who most undoubtedly, from the point of view of the criminal law, are very undesirable persons. Hon. Members can hardly have failed to have noticed frequent statements by Judges of the High Courts sitting at the Central Criminal Court, by the Recorder of London, by the Judge at the London Sessions, and by Metropolitan Police Magistrates in reference to this matter.
941 I have here a statement made by Mr. M'Connell, Chairman of the London Sessions, to the effect that of 103 persons charged no fewer than 25 per cent. were of foreign nationality. The evidence given by Mr. M'Connell only this morning before the Commission on Alien Immigration was of a very remarkable character indeed. A report of it will, no doubt, appear in the papers, and I would commend it to the consideration of hon. Members. I gather, roughly, that Mr. M'Connell stated that in 1892 there were 1,627 prisoners at the North London Sessions, and of these 116 were aliens, giving a proportion of about 7 per cent. In 1900 there were 1,722 prisoners, of whom 195 were aliens, or about 11 per cent. Last year the total number was 1,896, among whom then; were 249 aliens. or a proportion of 13 per cent. It was further stated by Mr. M'Connell that at the February Sessions this year the aliens formed one-fourth of the total number of prisoners in the calendar. I think, therefore, the House will acquit me of all exaggeration as to the great increase in the number of these aliens amenable to the criminal law. The statement of Mr. M'Connell this morning was, it will be admitted, of a very serious and important character. I understood him to say that many of the prisoners who come for the first time for trial at the North London Sessions give very strong foreign names, there being thus no doubt as to their place of origin. They also require the services of an interpreter. But when they reappear at some subsequent sessions they claim to be the possessors of strong English names—''Smith," for instance. They no longer require the services of an interpreter, and appear to thoroughly understand all evidence given in the English language. That is a very serious condition of things. At the Sessions which had just been held there was one prisoner especially who had been in this country considerably under a month. Some of the offences charged against these aliens are, I admit, of a very trivial kind, but others are of a very grave and serious character indeed. The House is aware that one of the most common offences, indicting loss on the people of London, is the crime of burglary. Now, a considerable number of these prisoners arrested by the Metropolitan Police are burglars provided with tools of a most elaborate character, and considerable association 942 has been traced between the severa gangs that have fallen into the hands of the police.
My right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department gave me, in November last, a very remarkable statement indeed. It was to the effect that in the twelve months ending October, 1902. 4,930 aliens—or nearly 5,000—had been arrested by the Metropolitan police. I need hardly point out to the House how very serious a charge this puts upon the ratepayers of Loudon. The police are a very costly part of the taxation of London. But we have no hesitation in paying for them, because they render us very great services indeed. I do submit to the House, however, that it is unfair to the ratepayers that they should be called upon to maintain a large police force in order to restrain alien immigrants from committing offences against the law. It should also be borne in mind that while these alien offenders are serving their sentences in prison they involve a pretty considerable expenditure, for the lowest cost of a prisoner is 8s. per week. As I was told by the President of the Local Government Board in answer to a Question I put this afternoon, destitute persons of all countries can actually come over here and quarter themselves, in the workhouses and asylums, upon the ratepayers of this country, whereas, if a destitute person comes from Sheffield, or any other place, and goes into the Union of St. George's, Hanover Square, the Guardians of that Union can immediately make a claim on the authorities of the place of origin of that pauper, so that the London ratepayers, at any rate, do not have to bear the burden. There is no such remedy, however, in the case of foreigners who go into our workhouses.
I do not desire to elaborate this matter to any great extent, but I may point out that some important figures with regard to the increase of criminals amongst the aliens have been recently published by a journal which has, with great public spirit, devoted considerable attention to this subject. I refer to the Daily Express, which, on the 7th February last, published figures for the year 1902, showing the number of aliens charged at every North London Session, the total for the 943 year being 280. It has been pointed out, too, that a new kind of offence is coming much into vogue—viz., larcenies by German and other foreign waiters. They go into an hotel and obtain from the waiting room a sheet of note paper with the hotel heading, on which they get somebody to write in fluent English a character; by this means they secure a situation, and take advantage of the opportunity to rob their employer.
Another serious matter is the expulsion by foreign countries of their worst characters, who drift to England. I am not speaking from imagination. During the years I served with the Metropolitan Police I had opportunities of making myself acquainted with the facts, while recently I have had the privilege of being a British representative at the Anti-Anarchist Conference at Rome, called by the Italian Government, at which the chief officers of police of every European nation were present. This deportation of criminals from one country to another without the slightest notice was a matter of general complaint. All agreed that persons in France, Germany, Russia, Italy, or Spain, against whom there was strong suspicion, although they might not have been convicted of any offence, were, on the warrant of the Minister of the Interior, deported, and in the natural course of things, drifted to England, because England was the only country to which they could go without inquiry as to their physical health or antecedents. That being so, the public of this country have a very fair ground of complaint against unrestricted immigration of this kind.
As to the effect of this immigration, in the year 1888, on the motion of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, a Select Committee, of which I was a member, was appointed to inquire into the question. That Committee sat through the session of 1888 and into the session of 1889, so that it went very elaborately into the whole matter. The conclusions at which the Committee arrived were—that the better class of immigrants only arrive in transit to other countries, but the poorest and worst class remain here, moving on when they have made a little money, 944 and giving place to other poor aliens; secondly, that in the trades they chiefly affect—tailoring, shoemaking, and cabinet making, they work for less wages than British workmen and for longer hours; and are dirty and uncleanly in their habits. Under these circumstances the Committee recommended the enforcement of the Alien Act of William IV., which had fallen into disuse, but which required the master of a ship to report to the Customs the names of the aliens on board his vessel, the British Consul being then instructed to exercise vigilance in the matter. That suggestion was adopted by the Government of the day, and since then we have had these ''alien returns," but, as the master of the ship complies with the requirement in a somewhat rough and ready way, too much reliance must not be placed upon them. The Committee declared—There is general agreement that pauper immigration is an evil and should be checked, and that so doing would largely decrease, if not altogether destroy, the sweating system. The only way effectually to accomplish this is to stop them at the port of arrival. While your Committee see great difficulties in the way of enforcing laws similar to those in the United States and other countries against the importation of pauper and destitute aliens, and while they are not prepared to recommend legislation at present, they contemplate the possibility of such legislation becoming necessary in the future, in view of the crowded condition of our great towns, the extreme pressure which exists amongst the poorer parts of the population, and the tendency of destitute foreigners to reduce still lower the social and material condition of our poor.In 1903 I think we are justified in asking the Government of the country whether the time contemplated by the Select Committee has not arrived. On what do I base my contention that the time has arrived for very active steps to be taken? First, the information furnished by the Alien Returns and the police reports as to the increasing extent of immigration; secondly, on the measures adopted in Eastern Europe to bring about the exodus of from 70,000 to 100,000 of the poorer population every year; thirdly, the refusal of any number of European countries, the United States, and the self-governing colonies, to accept these people save under the strictest regulations, vigorously applied, and the consequent necessity for the poorest 945 weakest, and most undesirable of the immigrants to seek shelter within the United Kingdom; fourthly, the enormous increase in our own urban population, the overcrowding and the high rents of workmen's dwellings, with an augmented difficulty of finding employment and the danger of an epidemic disease being brought to our crowded centres by these immigrants; and, lastly, the change which has come over public opinion upon this question, and the urgent demand of the people as a whole, and especially in East Loudon, for some measures to be taken.
I come now to the real effect of this immigration. It is seriously affecting the employment, welfare, and housing of the working classes. The employment question is of a most serious character. My hon. friend the Member for South Islington is to preside over a conference at the Guildhall to-morrow on the question of the unemployed. Why is such a conference thought necessary? They will doubtless seek some pallative measures. Why do they not go to the root of the evil? Last night the President of the Hoard of Agriculture refused to allow Canadian store cattle to come to this country for fear they should introduce disease. Why is not this question looked at in the same light? Would it not be better to look the facts in the face and see what it is that causes the lack of employment, instead of seeking palliative measures? I hope my hon. friend in his presidential remarks to-morrow will address himself to this question. I am sorry not to see present more Members who claim especially to represent the labour interest, because this is essentially a labour question. I understand the Home Secretary received this morning a deputation which pressed for a reduction of the naturalisation fees. If anything, the fees should be larger, not smaller. We are far too ready to accord the privileges of British citizenship without inquiry, provided an individual gets a lawyer or some one else to write out an application and sends the moderate fee of £2 or £3. The authorities ought to be extremely careful with regard to whom and on what grounds they accord these privileges. It is quite unnecessary for me to say more to show the effects this alien immigration has upon the employment of the people, because 946 we have evidence of the surest possible character that in certain localities the large number of aliens presses very hardly upon certain trades.
As to the welfare of the people, and the question of the housing of the people, a, very remarkable statement was made the other day by my hon. friend who will second this Motion, with regard to the ousting of the population from certain localities in the East End of London by these foreign immigrants. I have no doubt my hon. friend will tell the House the facts upon this very important question. That will, of course, obviate the necessity of my going into detail. The Birkbeck Institution trustees made a very elaborate inquiry into this question, and although I have the report in my hand I do not think it is necessary to read in detail the result of the inquiries made by the two Commissioners who were appointed. They report, however, that this foreign immigration had a very serious effect upon the housing question in the East End of London. What is the use of Motions of this kind, and (Questions being addressed to the President of the Local Government Board, and of Bills being introduced in this House for the welfare of the people, if our own people are to continue to be displaced by destitute foreign immigrants? My hon. friend mentioned that even model dwelling houses erected by the Loudon County Council were inhabited by these aliens. There is this remarkable fact about them for which I have a very strong sympathy, and it is that they stick very closely together. They rent houses and recoup themselves by taking an inordinate number of lodgers and crowd a number of people into one small room, in defiance of all the regulations of this House, of the County Council, of the local authorities, and of the Public Health Act; consequently they are a real source of danger to the community. I submit that I have largely made out the case that the immigration of destitute aliens has a very serious effect upon the housing and the welfare of the working classes.
In regard to the large increase in the number of undesirable persons who have become amenable to the criminal law, I claim to have made out my case. Upon this criminal question I would refer hon. Members to what is announced in the evening papers in regard to an anarchist 947 plot to assassinate the rulers of practically all European nations, this has just been unearthed in New York, and has rendered it necessary to take the utmost precautions with regard to the safety of the residents of the United States. It behoves, therefore, every nation as a duty not only to its own country, but to society at large, to take every possible precaution they can against any conspiracy to assassinate persons, whether they be Sovereigns or ordinary members of the community. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will not misunderstand my meaning. I have no desire to press the case against him personally, but he must allow me to say, as a loyal member of his Party, and as one who has taken great interest in this subject, that I do not think the Board of Trade and the Government as a whole, have redeemed their promises upon this question. Every month, almost every week and every day, hon. Members for years past have called the attention of the Government to this question. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was President of the Board of Trade, he stated in 1895 that this question of the immigration of destitute aliens was one of great importance and demanded attention. And in the year 1896 it was one of the principal measures in the Queen's Speech. Lord Salisbury, in 1894, introduced a Bill to deal with this question, and now my right hon. friend finds great difficulty in dealing with the subject. I would remind him that Lord Salisbury found no difficulty in 1894. In 1898 a noble friend of mine, Lord Hardwicke, now the Under Secretary of State for War, introduced a Bill in the House of Lords and it went through all its stages, and yet the present Government do nothing whatever. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the 10th of February, 1897, said that he was alive to the promises he had made, and the words he then used were of a most important character. A Motion was made by an hon. friend of mine who then sat in this House—I refer to the hon. Member for Haggerston, Mr. Lowels. It was stated that not only individual Members, but the whole Government, were pledged on this subject, and did not desire to depart from the pledges given. One Minister stated that the Government adhered to every pledge they had given and declared that at no distant time they would bring 948 forward legislation on the subject. That was a Minister giving expression to the opinion and feeling of the Government as a whole. After a statement so categorically clear and plain Mr. Lowels withdrew his Motion and left it in the hands of His Majesty's Government. And yet the Sessions of 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902 go by, and we hear nothing more of this matter, which not only individual Members but the Government as a whole have pledged themselves to deal with. Last year a Motion was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Stepney. It was shown that the whole matter had been enquired into in 1888 and 1889 when two or three volumes of evidence of the most drastic character were produced. We all know that the Government has very easy ways of getting out of anything, and there are two ways to do it. You can appoint either a Select Committee or a Royal Commission. The Royal Commission is the better of the two, because then the Minister concerned can say: "I have no authority upon this question, for the Commission are absolutely free; I should not dare to ask them when they are going to meet, or when they will report, for that would be interfering with their function." That is exactly what took place. A Royal Commission was appointed, with Lord James of Hereford as Chairman. I make no charge whatever against Lord James, but I am sorry to observe that after the Royal Commission had met several times in the course of last summer it never met at all from July to December, so that for six months in the year nothing was done. An urgent question of this character is not to be trifled with in this way. It must be understood that I make no charge in the slightest degree against Lord James himself. I only regret that the imperfect state of his health did not enable him to proceed with the inquiry, but of course it was the duty of the President of the Board of Trade to ask if his health precluded him from holding meetings on such an important subject. My right hon. friend gives the reply which I expected, namely, that he has no authority over the Commission and that he really does not know anything about them. Happily, repeated Questions produced a meeting on the 8th of December, and the Commission is sitting at the present time.
949 The complaint I make against my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade, and against the Government of which I am a loyal supporter, is that the pledges they have given, and the numerous promises to the electors made by individual members of the Government—as for instance in the election addresses of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade and a large number of other Members—have not been fulfilled. I have all their names and the names of their constituencies here. I expected something better than that a Royal Commission should be set to hush up the whole thing again. I cannot understand why my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth shire is not here to-day. We know by the daily papers, and by The Times especially, that he takes a great interest in this question of immigration, but unfortunately his interest in it is confined to immigration into South Africa, and not into the East End of London or into this country generally. Ft was well known that this question was coming on first to-day. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not ill, but if he is well I cannot understand a Statesman who takes such an interest in the question not being here. On the 5th February he wrote a letter to The Times with regard to the immigration of Chinese into South Africa, in which he says—No wonder Mr. Chamberlain has treated as an insult this presentment of a project for the latest pattern of a British colony. I shall not waste time in discussing such an alternative. I am well assured that no British Government will ever be a party to such a degradation of the British name, it has been made clear that it has been indignantly rejected by every organ of public opinion in this country and by the unanimous voice of our self-governing colonies also, who have had bitter experience of this demoralising mischief.[An HON. MEMBER: Question.] It is the question. The immigration of aliens into this country is more a question for the people of this country than the immigration of a few Chinese to work in the mines of South Africa. They would be brought in there and returned to their own country under proper regulations, as the coolies are at the present time. Why all this indignation when be is not even here to give his opinion on the question of alien immigration into London? I am greatly indebted to the House for the patience 950 with which they have listened to me. I hope I have succeeded, as it was my endeavour to do, in putting the question moderately and fairly. I am most anxious that it should not be thought that this has anything to do with any attack upon Jews or foreigners as foreigners, but I occupy a seat as the representative of British electors, and it is in their interest and the interest of the people of this country that I have brought forward the Amendment. I beg leave, therefore, to move it, and to commend it to the earnest consideration of the House and of His Majesty's Government.
*MR. S. FORDE RIDLEY (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
My hon. and gallant friend, the Member for Sheffield, who has just sat down, made a most lucid and exhaustive speech on this subject, and I rise, though very willingly indeed, with considerable diffidence, to second the Amendment, with the terms of which I am in hearty accord. I should like to take up the parable of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Monmouthshire, and to say that I raise my voice in this House in order that I may save my fellowmen in this country, if not in South Africa, from that moral degradation to which the right hon. gentleman himself is so rightly opposed. I rise as the representative of British working men in a working class constituency in East London—men who are suffering day by day from this unrestricted alien immigration, which is surely—I was going to say slowly, but it is moving fast—turning them out of house and home, and also out of the work by which they can earn their livelihood. The state of things in East London at present is indeed a most serious one. I had the honour to second an Amendment at the commencement of last session upon the same subject which we are discussing this afternoon. In seconding the Amendment to-day I find my task less difficult. At the same time, I am sorry that I find it easy to second the Amendment after a lapse of one year, because a very great deal has taken place on this momentous subject during the last twelve months. The increase in the immigration from various countries of paupers and un- 951 desirable characters who are quite as objectionable, and even more objectionable than the extreme pauper class, is so serious, that I do not see how any Government, whichever side of politics they might represent, could allow the present time to go by without having a full and exhaustive inquiry made into the circumstances. When we hear that during the past twelve months the increase of immigrants was no less than 11,000. when I remind the House that those people find their homes in the congested districts of our great cities, and chiefly in the East End of London, and that the housing accommodation in those parts of London and of other cities, instead of increasing, is rather on the decrease, and liable to decrease still further through the clearing away of overcrowded slum areas, then I think the House of Commons and the Government must seriously consider whether this is not a state of things which cannot continue. It is a state of things which, if allowed to go unrestricted, must end in riot and disorder. I do not like to have to refer to, or even to suggest, anything so terrible as disorder and riot among our own labouring classes. It is sad enough when we hear of disorder and disagreement between employers and employed. But the truth in regard to the present dangerous state of things was brought home to me the other day in the district I represent in East London, It was brought to my knowledge that two foreign Jews had been hunted down the streets by hundreds of British working men. When we have come to that, then I think it is indeed time for the Government to consider what action should be taken in the matter. The President of the Board of Trade has stated that he cannot hasten the labours of the Royal Commission, who have been sitting only half of the time they ought to have been sitting, inquiring into this matter. I would ask whether the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, cannot in some way bring pressure to bear on the members of the Commission in order that we may obtain a speedy report, and see whether we cannot do something to remedy this dangerous state of things.
There is another reason why I second this Amendment to-day, and it is one with 952 which the House is perfectly familiar, namely, the case of the unemployed in London, which has been so prominently brought before us during the last few weeks. We have had processions of unemployed parading the streets of the West End and other parts, seeking to raise money in order that they may alleviate the distress which prevails. I am not of those who believe that these processions are composed entirely of the deserving unemployed, or of desirable characters. I am not one of those who think that it is wise that processions of this kind should he allowed to annoy and disturb peaceable citizens, but being closely connected with those whom I represent in this House, I do know that there is a very large amount of genuine distress felt in East London at the present time. I know that the working classes generally suffer in silence and in patience. They are content to give up their little luxuries, which are not many at the best of times, and they bear their burdens as best they can. They are used to it. It comes year after year, as the winter comes round. They bear the pinch, and they do not make much noise about it. But it is undoubted that this winter there has been an abnormal amount of distress felt in some districts of London, and especially in the East End. This distress has been rendered far more acute by the enormous influx of these destitute aliens who become the prey of the sweater directly they arrive in this country. They are willing to work for any wage. I heard of a case the other day of a number of these people being employed in overcrowded rooms at a most insanitary business; these poor foreigners were paid at the rate of a halfpenny per hour for their work. I mention that only to show to what depths these people may sink in order to keep body and sold together. They do not know the English language, and they are willing to work for almost anything, because they have themselves and their families to support. They therefore fall, an easy prey, into the hands of sweaters, who herd them in sweating dens and work them to the bone day and night.
This is not sentiment I am giving to the House—I know that sentiment is the last thing the House of Commons; 953 wants—but it is the stern and solemn truth, in regard to what is going on at the present day. There are builders who pull down slum areas and erect whole new streets; on the top of the buildings there are workshops with intercommunication between one house and another. They will not accept a Christian landlord, though why I cannot for the life of me understand, unless it is in order that they may carry on their trade under some conditions which are certainly not according to the law. These houses are built by whole streets at a time, and as soon as the roof is put upon them, they are entered by foreign paupers who do not even understand the English language. When an inspector is admitted, the people are hustled out at the top round by the back, and you can never arrive at the true state of the over-crowding in these districts. I referred the other day to what I considered to be the key of the housing problem, viz., this unrestricted influx of aliens. My hon. and gallant friend has quoted a remark I then made in regard to certain buildings which had been erected by the London County Council. I said at that time, and I believe it is the case, that it is absolutely useless for us, at enormous cost to the ratepayers and the Metropolis, to erect expensive and elaborate blocks of flats and model dwellings which do not suit the class of people whom we turn out, because they cannot afford to pay the high rents demanded, and then to allow these buildings to be tilled with aliens, from whatever country they may come. Our own workmen are consequently driven from the neighbourhood where they are obliged to live by the exigencies of their trade—thus taking the bread out of their mouths.
I had a census taken a year ago of what is known as the Boundary Street area in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. No doubt that area is familiar to many hon. Members. A most insanitary district was cleared, and the site built upon at an enormous cost. Many hon. Members have, no doubt, read Mr. Morrison's book "The Child of the Jago," which contains a very faithful account of the conditions under which the people in that part of London lived. I knew it well, for I worked in it myself for years. I found from that census that there were no fewer 954 than 259 alien families then comfortably ensconsed in these dwellings. Is it not perfectly grotesque that we should be content to sit here and allow these heroic measures to be passed, and put our hands in our pockets for the erection of these buildings which, forsooth, are not to serve the purpose we had in view, but are used to turn out the very class of men, the British workers, whom we are seeking to help. I have no doubt that if I could get another census taken now—and should ask for a return by the London County Council—we should find that there are a greater number of aliens living in these blocks now than a year ago. I want to suggest, this consideration to the House: if the rents charged for these dwellings are so high that the British workman cannot afford to pay them, how can the aliens pay them? I do not suggest the answer; I leave it to the common sense of hon. Members to draw their own conclusions. There must be a reason.
*MR. S. F. RIDLEY
The only reason that suggests itself to my mind is that there must be some very serious overcrowding going on, and that if the system of inspection were complete it would prove that the rents could only be earned by some such overcrowding.
*MR. S. F. RIDLEY
The remarks I make apply to any buildings for which these excessively high rents are being charged, and where British working men have been ousted to make room for these aliens, I will not detain the House by going into any details of the figures so fully presented by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment, but I will take a point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not referred to; and that is, that if other countries find it necessary to have restrictive legislation on the subject, does it not strike some of us here that there may be something in it? I know perfectly well what is the result of this restriction in America, it reacts upon 955 us. The most healthy immigrants, those who have really a good character and some visible means of subsistence, are admitted into the United States, where there is an elaborate system of examination. But the result is that those who may have no means of subsistence, who are unhealthy and undesirable in many cases, come to this country where no examination whatever is imposed. Therefore, in self-defence, I maintain we would be wise to place some restriction on the influx of these undesirable aliens. Now, this question has forced itself on the attention of the country, during the last twelve months especially, through the medium of the law courts and by reports of the speeches of various judges and magistrates in London, as to the amount of crime committed by foreigners of a most undesirable class, who introduce crimes into this country with which, thank God, we, as a rule, are not conversant. They carry on a nefarious traffic in human lives, not only of working men, but of women and young girls. These facts surely are a disgrace to any country, and it will be a greater disgrace if the responsible Government of this country, does not take steps to apply a remedy to that dreadful state of things. When we know that there are large companies of employers and associations of men, banded together in order to carry on what is called a traffic in women and girls—it is difficult to know by what phrase to describe it—as has been shown by the evidence given before the Royal Commission, hon. Members will see what is the real state of things. When it is brought to our notice that there is such an organised traffic, surely the Government cannot allow this state of things to go on without moving a hand to try and stop it.
I am afraid I have detained the House too long, but I have endeavoured not to cover the ground occupied by my hon. and gallant friend. I ally myself with him in everything he has said in his exhaustive and noteworthy speech. Hon. Members on the other side of the House who take an interest in this subject, and I know that many do, should face it boldly. I know it is a difficult question, but that is no reason why it should not be faced and dealt with both from 956 an economic and a moral point of view, otherwise we cannot do the good we are all seeking to accomplish. This is not a political question, but one on which all hon. Members on either side of the House should ally themselves, go to the root of it, deal with it honestly and fairly, and see whether something cannot be done to remedy a state of things which causes such havoc and destruction to so many of our fellow-subjects.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the great increase of late in the immigration of destitute aliens into the East End of London, coupled with the considerable numbers of such aliens who become a charge on the Criminal taw of this country, constitute a grave national danger, seriously affecting the employment, the welfare, and the housing of the working classes, and calls, therefore, for the immediate fulfilment of the repeated promises of legislation upon the subject on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and notably of that of 10th February, 1897, declaring that not only individual members, but the Government as a whole, were pledged to some legislation on the subject."—[Sir Howard Vincent.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
A year ago an Amendment was moved by my hon. friend the Member for Stepney, and seconded by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, raising the same question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield. On that occasion the Amendment was withdrawn on the announcement by the Government that they proposed to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole subject. Now, my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Sheffield and the hon. Member who has just sat down have not expressed themselves as satisfied with what the Government proposed to do. The hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield has taken a different view, and has insinuated, if he has not declared, that the Royal Commission was appointed in order to hush up the whole matter. I must express my regret that my hon. and gallant friend should have made a statement of that sort. I can assure the House that the Royal Commission was not appointed to hush up this matter, which we recognise to be a very grave and also a very difficult matter.
957 My hon. and gallant friend further said that the Royal Commission has trifled with this question, inasmuch as it had sat up till July last, but did not sit during the later months of the year. My hon. and gallant friend knows, of course, that the Commission did not sit during the later months in the year because of the indisposition of the Chairman, Lord James. My hon. and gallant friend suggested that it was my duty as President of the Board of Trade to intimate to Lord James that it was desirable that he should retire from the chairmanship. I believe no man in either House has a keener sense of public duty than Lord James; and I am quite certain that it was perfectly safe to leave a question of that kind to him, because if he considered it his duty to retire he would undoubtedly have retired. If he had considered it his duty to retire, it would have been a great public misfortune, because there is no man more capable of discharging the duties of Chairman than Lord James. As a matter of fact, I do not think it was quite fair for my hon. and gallant friend to suggest that the Commission has trifled with this question. Since it was appointed, the Commission has sat twenty-one times, and has examined eighty witnesses. I understand that the case of the persons represented by the hon. Member for Stepney is still under consideration by the Commission, and that evidence has still to be given in favour of excluding aliens or of imposing some restrictions on alien immigration. When the case for exclusion or restriction has been finished, naturally the case of those who are opposed to that view will have to be heard; and not until both sides have been heard is it possible for the Government or the House of Commons to come to a wise conclusion on this matter. It is under these circumstances that my hon. and gallant friend thinks it right to move an Amendment which practically censures the Government for not having brought in legislation before the Loyal Commission had reported. Even if my hon. and gallant friend's contention is correct, which I absolutely deny—and it is wholly inconsistent with the attitude of the hon. Member for Stepney and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green—the Government would have deserved censure, if, having appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into this question, 958 they were to undertake legislation before that Commission had reported.
I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant friend into the details of his speech, because I do not consider it would be practicable or desirable that the matter should be fully discussed in this House, any more than it would be practicable or desirable for the Government to introduce legislation. I would say, however, that the speech of my hon. and gallant friend shows what a difficult problem we have to face. One of the points my hon. and gallant friend laid stress upon was the crimes that had been committed by aliens. What were the crimes to which my hon. and gallant friend specially referred? He referred to alien burglars, provided with tools of the most elaborate kind. I always understood that a burglar's outfit cost, at the very least, £100, and I should like to ask my hon. and gallant friend how he thinks that any man with that amount of capital would come to this country as a pauper alien.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Then my hon. and gallant friend refers to larcenies by German waiters. Does he suggest that we can prevent that by any ordinary restriction placed on immigration? The fact is, that although my hon. and gallant friend pointed to what everyone admits is a great evil, he has not suggested what remedy should be applied. He referred to the discussion yesterday on the question of the exclusion of Canadian cattle, and he asked, if the President of the Board of Agriculture would not permit the importation of Canadian cattle, why should not the Government take up a similar attitude with reference to alien immigration? Does he say we should absolutely prohibit immigration? [Sir HOWARD VINCENT: Yes—undesirable immigration.] It is there the difficulty arises. My hon. and gallant friend referred to the Bill introduced by Lord Salisbury in 1894. He said that Lord Salisbury had no difficulty regarding the matter, and asked what difficulty the present Government should have. In spite of what my hon. and gallant 959 friend has said, we do understand this quest on, and we have a deeper sense of the difficulties connected with it than was possible in 1894. I venture to express the confident opinion that if the Bill introduced by Lord Salisbury in 1894 were passed into law, it would have done almost less than nothing towards diminishing the evil of which my hon. and gallant friend, and my hon. friend the Member for Bethnal Green justly complain. It was in order that we might have further information and further light thrown on this subject that the Royal Commission was appointed; and I venture to suggest to the House of Commons that it would be inconvenient and undesirable to pursue this debate at any length until we have that further information and that further light, without which it would be impossible for us to come to a wise decision.
§ MR. BRYCE
I confess myself at a loss to understand why this question has been brought before the House. It cannot have been brought forward for the benefit of the House of Commons, because we have had similar speeches on similar occasions from the hon. and gallant Gentleman; and it cannot have been brought forward for legislative purposes, because we know perfectly well it is impossible for any Government to legislate on a subject on which a Royal Commission is taking evidence. I can only suppose that this subject has been brought forward, not to enlighten us, and not with a view to legislation, but with a view to constituencies outside for which apparently hon. Members think the time of the House of Commons ought to be expended. I am very glad the President of the Board of Trade has taken the only course for a Minister to take, and has declared the entire inability of the Government to deal with this question until this Royal Commission, which is presided over by an eminently competent Chairman, should have reported upon it. It is not for me to add anything to the censure which the President of the Board of Trade has awarded to the hon. and gallant Gentleman; but I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman must himself admit that it would be quite impossible for the Govern- 960 ment to accelerate the proceedings of the Commission, having referred to that Commission a question of extreme difficulty. The more one looks into the question the more difficult it becomes. One story is good until another is told. It is perfectly easy to make a strong case against the immigration of destitute aliens, and I do not say that it might not be desirable to have legislation on the subject; but everyone who has dealt with the matter knows how difficult it is to introduce effective legislation. The President of the Board of Trade said, with perfect truth, that Lord Salisbury's Bill, if passed, would have entirely failed to grapple with the difficulty. That certainly was the impression left on me when I had to deal with the matter at the Board of Trade in 1894. I do not profess to say whether the evil is the same, or whether it has taken a different form, but up to then no practical scheme had been suggested; and I am not aware that up till to-day any practical scheme has been suggested tor dealing with the difficulty. It is very easy for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to hold up a scheme in his hand, but I should like to know what the Royal Commission would say to it. I remember another scheme of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, for the exclusion of prison made goods. A Bill was passed for that purpose, but it utterly failed to accomplish its purpose.
§ MR. BRYCE
It has not had the slightest effect as far as I know, and the result verified the prediction we made, that legislation would be incompetent to deal with the matter. I should be committing the error I deprecate if I were to express an opinion on this subject. It is impossible to deal with it until the Commission has reported. I shall, and I hope we all shall, keep an open mind upon it. We shall see the gravity of the evil from the evidence of the Commission. The experience of America shows that it is very difficult to deal with; but I think the only proper course for us is to reserve our opinion on the whole matter, and approach the evidence and recommendations which will be submitted by 961 the Commission with a perfectly unbiassed mind. That being the case, I shall not discuss the merits of the matter now. What I rose for was to express my satisfaction that the Government have refused to deal with the matter at present, because I believe that the question is one of so much difficulty that we should not approach it without fuller information than we now possess.
*MR. STUART SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)
said he did not propose to enter into this question at any length, for the reason that he did not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who had moved the Amendment, and his friends, having asked for a Royal Commission, had practically presented their case.
§ SIR: HOWARD VINCENT said they did not ask for a Royal Commission. They asked for action and legislation; for redemption of promises.
§ *MR. STUART SAMUEL apprehended that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends did not desire that the Royal Commission should come to an end with only one side of the case presented. Nor did he believe that a Government which had spent so many millions on behalf of the aliens of the Transvaal had any desire to promote legislation until they were acquainted with the findings of the Royal Commission. Hon. Gentlemen opposite first of all asked for legislation against aliens, and that being found to be impossible they called them destitute aliens and tried to obtain legislation against them. The hon. and gallant Member said that the aliens of the East End of London paid rent which the British workman could not afford, and never parted with the key of a house which they had purchased unless they parted with it to one of their own nationality. That was not the sign of destitution, although the latter statement, had no foundation. He was not concerned to defend the alien criminal to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded, but speaking as one who had suffered from their depreciations he did not think the home-made thief had much to learn from the alien. Hon. Members must also remember when they spoke of the 962 alien criminal, that the number of English thieves abroad was a matter of common notoriety.
§ The hon. and gallant Gentleman had alluded to the want of support this proposal had met with from the very class which he claimed to represent. He (Mr. Samuel) representing as he did an East End constituency, and taking an opposite view to that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, reminded the House that his opposition had some relevancy from the fact that his constituency was the one in which this question had come to the fore in recent elections. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was perfectly right when he said he received no support from the Labour Party. The Trades Union Congresses had rejected time after time similar motions to this which was now before the House, for the reason that any evil in the labour market could be better redressed by trade union methods than by legislation.
§ It had been said that the British worker had been driven away from London. The fact of the matter was that the British workman would not remain and pay high rents within the London area if he could avoid it; and if he could get to Leyton and Walthamstow, and other places, where he got cheaper houses and better air, he went there. Only those obliged to live in the immediate neighbourhood of the trades now being carried on in the East End lived within the London area. Seventeen years ago, in the constituency which he represented, there were practically no factories; now it swarmed with them. The result had been that these factories had not only taken away dwellings which were suitable for the working classes, but at the same time attracted an enormous number of workers to the locality: and, although rents at the present moment were extremely high, he had no doubt that in the immediate future the value of land in that particular area would rise still more in value, owing to the change of the character of the locality from a residential to an industrial centre. As rents rose so the working classes would go outside London; and to his mind that was the proper solution for the overcrowding question in London. Now that communications were so much greater, and the means of getting to and from their work so much easier, there was 963 nightly a steady stream of emigration from inner to outer London. It was not necessary to dwell upon the question of the laxity of the inspection by the local authorities of the buildings, because every authority had a resident inspector to overlook these dwellings. The reason for overcrowding was that particular industries centred in that part, and the constant demand for labour to carry on those industries. In his experience he did not know of any ease in which a British workman had been ousted by the alien, and he was confirmed in that by the Chairman of the Whitechapel Board of Guardians, who had stated that he had had similar experience. Such a state of things was not extraordinary when it was remembered that these aliens followed trades which they themselves had introduced into this country to the benefit of the East End of London—trades which, if stopped now, would bring ruin to all the small tradesmen and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood. With regard to the necessity of the dockers living near their work, he might just say in Shadwell there was probably more accommodation available than in any other part of the East End.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said he was not surprised at the attitude adopted by the hon. Gentleman opposite, though he was surprised that he should have stated that the labour classes and their leaders were against any legislation for the prevention of this alien invasion. Mr. Joseph Arch, a late Member of the House and the founder of the Agricultural Union, said in his autobiography that while the best British workers were being driven out of the country we allowed the riffraff of other lands to come freely into England, and that he was strongly opposed to alien immigration. The hon. Gentleman, therefore, was quite wrong in saying the labour classes were against legislation of this kind.
It was ten years ago since, he himself had moved an Amendment to the Address on this subject. At that time there were strong grounds for immediate action on the part of Parliament. They had had various enquiries, the result of which certainly afforded strong grounds for legislation. The Government—practically 964 the present Government—in the Queen's Speech of the subsequent session undertook to legislate in this direction; they had not acted up to their pledge, and he thought it was high time that the Government should realise that the country was getting heartily sick of the delay. So far from Members on that side having asked for a Royal Commission, the Commission in their opinion was a "put-up" affair to delay the question. Thousands of British-born workmen were destitute of employment, and yet every day there were brought into the country large numbers of men who must in the long run compete in the national labour market. No small amount of the pauper charges of the country were due to persons driven out of employment by this unfair competition. The minds of the great mass of the people of the country were made up on this question, and, notwithstanding official vacillation, public opinion would enforce its way. He hoped the Commission would hurry up, and that its Report would enable legislation to be promptly undertaken. This country had become a bye-word as being the rubbish-heap of the world, upon which those elements, which no civilised community would retain in its midst, were pitch-forked. All other countries, including our self - governed colonies, had stringent legislation by which to guard their communities from these evils, and it was perfectly monstrous that year after year the Executive here should shirk the obvious duty of dealing with the matter. The country had had enough of the delay, and would not stand it much longer.
§ MR. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
, as a member of the Royal Commission at present inquiring into this subject, expressed his surprise that, after spending a considerable portion of the day on that Commission, he should come to the House and find Members pressing the Government immediately to introduce a Bill dealing with the question. The Commission had held over thirty sittings, and heard over eighty witnesses, many of them at great length, and collected a mass of evidence of a most important character. It was for the Government to defend themselves against the accusa- 965 tion that the Commission was a "put-up job," but such a statement was grossly unfair to the members of that body, who at considerable cost of time and convenience had for a long time been devoting their efforts to the elucidation of the question. He had no right to speak in the name of the Commission, or of the Chairman, but he might say that at a private meeting of the Commission that day the Chairman had expressed an earnest desire, in which he was supported by every member of the Commission, that they should bring their labours to a termination at the earliest possible moment, and to that end steps had been taken to compress the remaining evidence as far as possible. Without speaking officially in any way, he thought it highly probable that the Commission would report before the end of the present Parliamentary session. Under these circumstances it seemed hardly reasonable for the hon. and gallant Member to ask the Government immediately to introduce legislation on a subject which had greatly changed in its essential conditions during the last, year or two, and therefore concerning which the new evidence was of immense importance.
§ MR. STOCK (Liverpool. Walton)
said that ten years ago, in supporting a Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, he was able to demonstrate how this matter had affected the rates of Liverpool. The statistics of the Liverpool workhouses showed that during the year no fewer than + 36 pauper aliens had passed through them, from which fact Members could gather how pauper immigration affected the rates. He was glad that in the debate no attack had been made on the Jews, but no fair-minded or practical man would contend that immigration of pauper aliens of any creed should be allowed. He hoped, therefore, as soon as the labours of the Royal Commission were over, the Government would see their way to bring forward legislation, as the subject was no doubt becoming an urgent one.
*MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said it was evident that, with a Royal Commission sitting, the Government could not be expected to give any pledge or to introduce a Bill. But that was not the; point before the House. The Motion was a vote of censure on the 966 Government for having neglected their promises and broken their pledges on this subject. He for one most cordially desired some legislation directed against the unlimited immigration of destitute aliens, and he looked to the Government to redeem its pledges in this matter if it could not in others. In 1897 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on behalf of the Government said—Not only individual Members, but the Government as a whole, are pledged to some legislation on the subject. We do not desire to depart one iota from the pledges we have given: we adhere to every pledge, and I hope at no distant time to propose in Parliament legislation in the direction desired.That surely meant that the Government not only felt that this was an evil which ought to be remedied, but had thought out the means by which their promises could be redeemed. But the speech the President of the Board of Trade had just made seemed to imply that the Government had given promises on a matter with regard to which they had not made up their minds, and had undertaken to introduce a Bill of which they had not thought out the principle. The right hon. Gentleman had said it was a very difficult problem. Of course it was, but the business of a Government was to solve difficult problems, and, having given pledges, it was still more their duty to solve this problem instead of endeavouring to hush it up by the appointment of a Royal Commission.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for South Wolverhampton, no reflection whatever had been cast on the Commission itself. If a Commission was necessary, the one appointed was an admirable instrument for the purpose; it was an able body presided over by an able Chairman, and would doubtless do its duty in all respects. But that was not the matter under discussion. What they were discussing were the pledges of the Government. It was in the year 1897 the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his promise. In 1898 a Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by the present Under Secretary for War. Lord Salisbury spoke in favour of it, and the Earl of Dudley, speaking on behalf of the Government, supported it. The Government now found that they were not able to draw a Bill, and they had 967 to appoint another Commission. There was another matter in regard to this question. In July, 1900, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was then President of the Board of Trade, and he was approached with regard to this very question. Upon that occasion he said the only reason why the subject had not been dealt with was that the House had been engaged in other business, and implied that they had a Bill ready. Never, in all his Parliamentary experience, had he seen a more flagrant violation of absolute promises and pledges given, not only on the hustings, but also to hon. Members of that House, and given deliberately by Members of the Government. They had promised to draw a Bill and to introduce it, and the only reason they gave for not doing so was want of time. And now the right hon. Gentleman told them that afternoon that it was impossible for the Government to do what was required or draw a Bill without referring the latter to a Royal Commission. He thought it was necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to give the House some further information.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman's speech should have been made last year; it is a year too late.
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON said that really he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to say that he ought to have made this speech a year ago. The debate on this question last year was a very short one. Hon. Members would remember that it came on at the end of a Sitting, and his hon. friend behind him was anxious to say something. But he was obliged to condense his remarks into a very few minutes, and had he himself wished to say anything upon that occasion it would have been impossible for him to do so. Promises and pledges given by the Government were not for one year or another, and if they could show that such pledges had been broken, it was equally effective in 1903, as in 1902. This Royal Commission ought never to have been appointed, for it was quite obvious that it would not be worth while to discuss the principles of this question at any length now, but he should like to say one or two words to show that, although he was in a minority on this side of the House on this question, still he knew that his views 968 were held by a good number of hon. Member's sitting on the Opposition side as well as on the other side of the House. There was no racial or sectarian feeling of any kind in this matter. He did not care whether the alien emigrant were Jew, Turk, or infidel, or what nationality he belonged to; what he objected to was the refuse of Europe being dumped down on these shores. It was not so much a question of actual numbers, nor of pressure in localities, and concentration upon certain trades of these aliens. That was where the evil came in, and it was especially great in some parts of London. His hon. friend had said that the trades unions could look after the working hours of these people, but destitute aliens were ready to accept very low wages and long hours, and this made it impossible in some trades for trades unions to be formed at all. The result of this system was that work was put into the hands of the worst class of employers.
§ One of the most important points in regard to this matter was the question of housing. He believed that everybody in that House was desirous of seeing a better class of houses and a larger number of dwellings erected for the working classes. It was impossible to expect that they could improve the housing of the poor so long as the refuse of the rest of Europe was permitted to come into this country. In the present condition of the working classes of this country it was not right that they should allow these destitute emigrants to come in unchecked to reduce the rate of wages and lengthen the hours of work, and seriously affect the proper conditions under which labour ought to be carried out. The President of the Board of Trade asked what remedy they suggested. He thought that was a matter upon which the Government ought to have made up their minds. This question had been dealt with in America, where they sent back annually something like 300 distitute aliens, and they all came back to this country. What could be simpler than to put the obligation in this matter upon the steamship companies? Quite 80 per cent. of these destitute aliens came to London; and, practically, the whole of them came to three ports 969 in this country, and came from four continental ports only, and there would be no difficulty about it. The administrative difficulties had been greatly exaggerated, and if the Board of Trade made up its mind to deal with this question and put the responsibility on the steamship companies they would prevent those destitute aliens coming here. At present they gave the greatest possible encouragement to the immigration of these destitute aliens, and if they could not exclude them altogether they ought to take steps to discourage their entrance into this country: Although he could not vote for his hon. friend's Motion under the circumstances, he for one was glad to have the opportunity as a Liberal Member, and as a Member representing a constituency in the East End of London, to raise his voice in this House in protesting against the influx of destitute aliens to the very great detriment of the working classes.
*SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
, said he rose to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield for bringing forward this question. He had no wish or desire to turn out the Government for this neglect of their duty, but a great many of those who took a great interest in the labour questions of the country must feel that the time had come when this question should be dealt with most thoroughly. And now the President of the Board of Trade simply passed over the question as a subject which had been recently sprung upon the Government, but it was no such thing. In 1894 Lord Salisbury himself brought forward a Bill on this question in the House of Lords, when his Lordship declared that the Board of Trade should prevent anyone who was either an idiot, an insane pauper, or was likely to become a public charge, or was affected with contagious disease, from landing in this country. Such a Bill as that was a very simple question, and a strong and powerful Government ought to have no difficulty in framing such a measure.
Why should we have thousands of destitute women and children swarming into our midst? A Bill dealing with this question had been carried by eighty-nine votes to thirty-seven, 970 and still they found the Government doing nothing. Private Members had a very great deal of difficulty in forcing upon the Government the importance of dealing with subjects in which they were interested, and although he should not vote for this Amendment this was the only way in which they were able to show the Government that they did not intend that important subjects like this question of the immigration of destitute aliens should be allowed to go unheeded and uncared for. It was all very well for them to be a powerful Party, especially on great Imperial questions, but the Government should understand that they had subjects at home which were also dear to them, and they strongly appealed to the, Government to give these subjects attention and endeavour to deal with them.
It was a disgrace to them to see so many unemployed able-bodied men walking through the streets of London. And why was it? Because destitute aliens were allowed to come into our midst in thousands to labour at a price which English workmen could not accept. He was certain that there were many Members on the Government side who would like to speak in similar terms to those be had spoken in. They felt that it was the duty of the Government to bring forward such legislation as this, and he was greatly surprised to hear the President of the Board of Trade say that they had not enough information, and sufficient intelligence, at the Board of Trade to frame a Bill which would put a curb upon this immigration into our midst of such a large number of useless individuals, in many cases useless paupers, and the sooner they had some one at the head of that Department who would deal with this question, the better.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said he was one of those who sat on a Committee that inquired into this subject some years ago. It was quite true, as the President of the Board of Trade had said, that it was difficult for the Government to legislate while the Royal Commission was sitting; but it should be remembered that this was a subject which had been before Parliament for nearly twenty years, and that the 971 feeling in London was very strong upon it. It was a difficult subject, for although we objected to these people coming into the country, we sent a great many out. It was clear, however, that some legislation was desirable, and there was no doubt that even the mention of legislation would have a great effect in preventing many of these people from coming over. There was a general idea on the Continent that any rubbish, so to speak, could be shot on these shores. This was a state of affairs that a very little legislation would stop. It should be understood that this country was not an asylum for those who were destitute and who were in such a state of dirt that they should not be imported. When the Committee of which he was a member was sitting, a number of aliens were brought before them, but on account of their condition they had to be excluded from the room. It was very painful to have to say so. To have hundreds and thousands of that class landed and kept here was a very serious state of affairs. He suggested to the President of the Board of Trade that he should hurry on the labours of the Royal Commission as rapidly as possible so that this evil might be put a stop to.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he could not adopt the view expressed by the right hon. Member for South Aberdeen, who joined the President of the Board of Trade in deprecating discussion and doubting whether it had any value. He thought this debate had been of great value. It had drawn a declaration from the right hon. Member for South Aberdeen of which, no doubt, the public, and especially the London public, would take due note. It had also been an occasion on which the hon. Member for Poplar had been able to announce his views as an influential London Member—views which he owned were not shared by the majority of his Party. The House had also had from the hon. Member for Whitechapel certain statements which he would venture to refer to. He could not help thinking that the hon. Member could scarcely have meant what he said when he stated that not a single British workman had been ousted by these foreigners. If he would honour him with a visit to Hoxton he could show him premises which had been occupied by British subjects for close upon 972 a century, who had been ousted from their homes and trades by aliens. The hon. Member must be gravely ignorant of East London if he could state as he had just done that the cabinet making industry did not exist in the East End before the aliens had become numerous and where the question of alien immigration was now constituting a serious evil. The hon. Member had also alleged that we, after all, could not take exception to the arrival on these shores of foreign criminals because there were British subjects incarcerated in the prisons of foreign lands. He was one of those who had had the advantage of visiting prisons in many parts of Europe, and he would venture to say that the proportion of British subjects whom he had found serving terms of imprisonment in these was infinitesimal as compared with the proportion of foreigners who were undergoing sentences in London prisons for serious offences.
He joined the hon. Member for North Islington in saying that they should not be guided absolutely by what fell from the President of the Board of Trade, when he said that it was impossible that the Government should embark on any legislation pending the Report of the Royal Commission on the subject. The etiquette in the matter of Royal Commissions should be departed from when judicial statistics and the opinions of the judges of the High Court, together with returns which could be obtained from prisons, afforded irrefragable evidence that alien immigration constituted an urgent and intense social danger. If hon. Members would look into the statistics of the criminal courts of London, they would find that a very large proportion of the offences—in some instances, as his hon. friend the Member for Sheffield had said, 25 per cent. of the whole—were committed by foreigners. That being the state of things as stated on the authority of magistrates at first hand, why should the Minister responsible await the presentation of the Report of the Commission before taking steps to remove a crying evil from the very centre of our national life? This evil constituted a most serious burden on the taxpayers of this country. Only about a fortnight ago at one of our courts a Frenchman, who was a well-known professional criminal in France, was sentenced 973 to seven years penal servitude. At the expiry of his last term of penal servitude in France he was banished from the country. The convict was conducted to a ship and sent off to these shores, with the result that within a fortnight of his arrival in London he committed a serious burglary, coupled with a dastardly and brutal attack on some person. Assuming that the cost of maintaining criminals in prison was £40 per head per annum, the British taxpayer was now saddled with a charge of £280 for this Frenchman.
The position, he submitted, was one which was not, after all, so difficult as appeared to be thought by the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen said that he doubted whether any legislation would be really effective. Any one who had given attention to the subject knew that though the American law might not be absolutely effective, the Act was, nevertheless, a very great deterrent in the sense that not only did it prevent people from going to America, but enabled the authorities there to ship back to England those who were refused admission because they were not considered fit for the country. These rejected aliens were sent here because they would not be readmitted by the European countries from which they originally came. What was the experience of any British subject who went to reside in any country in Europe? Immediately he arrived at an hotel his name was written down and given to the police, and he had every sort of inquiry to answer. If we were now to take steps for the exclusion of paupers and undesirable aliens, we should simply be doing, in the twentieth century, that which every foreign country in Europe had done for sixty or seventy years past.
There was one point in regard to the criminal aspect of this subject on which he and others on that side of the House would press for an answer from the Government. Why should the 16 per cent. who were aliens of the felons now incarcerated at Wormwood Scrubs at the expense of our fellow citizens not be taken out of the country, so that we should not have the possibility of their being again convicted as recidivistes?
974 They all knew that the men of whom he spoke were not first offenders, but were men who had been stamped with crime from their earliest manhood. A disappointing feature to many inside and outside the House who had had this problem, and the evils which flowed from it, pressed on their minds, was the absolutely limp attitude taken up in regard to it by the great majority of Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House. Surely in a matter affecting the social condition of our people they should discard Party politics and press the subject on the Government, and aid them all they knew in every endeavour to put, by rigorous legislative measures, an end to that which was physically and morally a, gigantic evil in our immediate midst. The economic question involved was one upon which he need not touch, except to say what was the use of all those great public Acts dealing with the health of the people if they permitted this influx of destitute and unclean aliens to continue, and if those laws were to remain a dead letter, He asked any man who had any knowledge of the east, north, south and, he might add some parts of the west of London, any one engaged in the administration of their laws, how they could attempt to enforce them when their enforcement would drive the dwellers into still more overcrowded neighbourhoods? This question not merely impinged upon, but was inseparable from, some of the great social problems which lay at the root of true Imperialism, and which, referring for a moment to the debates in the earlier part of the week, would render any scheme of Army reform utterly useless—more especially if they allowed the population of the towns to grow up in the miserable conditions under which they were born and had to pass the younger years of their lives. It was because he, and those who were accredited with the desire of pursuing a policy of pin-pricks towards the Government—which accusation was not well-founded—believed that if the Government saw that they had the support on this subject, not of their own side only, but of all quarters of the House, they would pass the measures demanded of them that he welcomed the Debate. IT; thanked his hon. and gallant friend with all the warmth at his command for initiating the debate which, though it might not have filled the Benches, excited a very 975 real and sincere interest among the great mass of the people.
§ SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)
said he could not help thinking that his hon. and gallant friend had done good service in introducing this subject to the attention of the House; and if he had done nothing more than spur the Government to take some action, his object would have been attained. But the position of the House was rather curious, for they had the responsible Minister of the Crown telling them that he had not material enough on which to legislate, while members of the Royal Commission alleged that this question had changed very much in the last two or three years. He hoped, therefore, his hon. and gallant friend would not divide on his Amendment.
*MR. BONAR LAW (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
said he had been very much interested in the speech of his hon. friend on the front Bench opposite; but he could not help thinking that there was a great deal of force in what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that that speech would have been much more appropriate and more effective if it had been delivered before the Royal Commission was appointed. He could not admit that the argument the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward was relevant. The hon. Gentleman told the House that he did not have in his pocket the speeches containing the broken pledges of the Government to which he had referred; but this question had not come for the first time before the country, and if it was the duty of the hon. Gentleman to bring it before the House that day, it was equally his duty to have done so a year ago, when it was within his power to have produced those references to the speeches of the Members of the Government.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON said he really must make an explanation. He had had no opportunity of bringing the matter forward last year, and even if he had, he was not then aware that the Government were going to refer it to a Royal Commission. He could not be expected to carry about with him all the speeches of Members of the Government in regard to this or any other matter.976
§ *MR. BONAR LAW said that this was really not a matter of much importance, nor had the explanation of the hon. Gentleman altered what he had been saying. But he was certain that if the hon. Gentleman had desired, speaking from that Bench, to take part in the debate last year, he might have found an opportunity, and have come prepared to do so. The hon. Member for Poplar had told the House that the views he expressed were expressed as a Liberal and also as a Member for a London constituency. He would like to ask the hon. Gentleman how much of these views were represented by the Liberal and how much by the London constituency.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON said he would endeavour to explain. So far as he was aware, there were very few aliens in his constituency—possibly fewer, indeed, than in the constituency of his hon. friend the Member for Bethnal Green; but being interested in the East End of London, he felt the matter was one of great magnitude.
§ *MR. BONAR LAW said that the real subject which he wished to bring before the House was this: What was it that his hon. and gallant friend the Member for Sheffield thought the Government could possibly do under present circumstances? A Royal Commission had been appointed, and after the statement given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who 'was a member of that Commission, and what had been said to him by other members of the Commission, he would ask his hon. and gallant friend whether he would not readily admit the legislation after the Report was presented to the House was likely to be more valuable than legislation now before the Commission had reported? He had, however, really to assure the House that there was no absence of sympathy on the part of the Government with the evils brought before them to-day; and the quotations made by the hon. Gentleman opposite really showed that the Government fully realised those evils, but while realising them they felt more than irresponsible Members of the House what their duty was. His hon. friend the Member for Shoreditch had referred to the restrictions put on ordinary travellers on 977 the Continent; but he asked the House whether they would readily pass legislation which would east similar restrictions on travellers in this country. Those were some of the difficulties that the Government would have to meet in introducing a Bill. He was authorised by the Government to state that they fully realised the evils referred to, that they were most anxious to he in a position to consider the matter, and that the moment the Royal Commission handed in its report, and not before it, they would consider it, with the view of seeing whether it was possible for them to do anything by way of legislation.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT said that. under the circumstances, and after the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade, he did not think that it would be wise to press his Amendment to a division—realising, as he did, that the right hon. Gentleman spoke not only for himself but for the Board of Trade and the Government, and be begged leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.