HC Deb 08 June 1904 vol 135 cc1131-44

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER, (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of the salaries and remuneration of any persons employed, and of any Expenses incurred under any Act of the present session, to make provision with respect to the Immigration of Aliens, and other matters incidental thereto."—(Mr. Secretary Akers-Douglas.)

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said he thought it would be reasonable to ask that a Resolution of this kind should appear on the Paper so that they would know its precise provisions before they were asked to debate it. He supposed the object was to provide the expenses that might arise under the Aliens Bill. It appealed to him that these might be very considerable, and if the Home Secretary would now give an indication of the amount and allow the Resolution to stand over it might be dealt with more quickly later on after hon. Members had had time to consider the objects for which the expenses were to be incurred. There was no hurry about this matter, because it would be some time before the expenses could be incurred. He understood that the expenses would include the payment, or the possible payment, of passages for aliens who were sent back, and also the expenses of the department which would be set up to carry out the provisions of the Bill. It was impossible that a Resolution of this kind could be submitted to the House without an estimate having been prepared. Probably at this moment the whole department existed in skeleton. The Committee ought to know the number to be engaged. They knew that in the case of some new Acts the expenses at the various ports were very considerable. The expenses in connection with the sugar tax would be trifling as compared with the machinery necessary to carry out the provisions of this Bill. The measure would involve the examination of every ship on which passengers were carried. There would be an examination of first-class as well as third-class passengers, and a very elaborate staff would be necessary. He noticed that in the Bill itself there was the safeguard that the expenses were to be such as were approved by the Treasury. But the House of Commons was interested in this matter as well as the Treasury, and he thought they ought to hear as much as the Home Secretary could tell them now in regard to the expenses under the Bill.

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

objected to the Resolution passing without some explanation. The Committee had a blank cheque presented to them which they were asked to sign without the least indication of the expense that would attend the working of the Aliens Bill. A good deal depended upon the cost of working the measure. There ought to be an estimate of the number of officials to be appointed. After what had happened in recent years the Committee could put no faith in Treasury supervision. Treasury control had become quite a myth in latter days. He objected to the Resolution being brought on without any notice whatever. He was sure the Committee would be glad to hear anything the Home Secretary could tell them on the subject. The Resolution had been kept back until the moment it was to be proposed. He could not see why it did not appear on the Agenda Paper. An Agenda Paper was no value unless it contained the business to be done. Unless they got an accurate estimate they ought to move an Amendment and not give the Government a blank cheque.

MR. MCKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

said that this was in some respects the most important Vote to be carried in regard to the Bill. However bad the Bill might be in principle it did not matter whether it was carried in that House provided it was not carried out in the country. The Committee ought to know how many officials the Home Secretary was going to appoint, and what sort of men they would be. Were they to be ordinary Custom House officers, to whom would be entrusted the duty of inquiring into the character of immigrants, male and female, into their antecedents, the conditions under which they proposed to live in this country, and their secret history in the past? Was all this to be done by one individual, or would the right hon. Gentleman appoint a competent staff of gentlemen with considerable salaries—a staff who would be as qualified as Foreign Office clerks to carry out this delicate work. Upon the answer to this question depended the whole value of the Bill. The Committee could not discuss the principle of the measure until they knew how it was to be carried out. The expenses might come to £1,000,000 or £1,000, but the Committee had not the slightest indication of what they would be. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he intended to create an establishment that would ensure that the Bill would be properly carried out, and that he would nave the means at his disposal to give effect to the will of Parliament. The staff must be adequate, otherwise it would be idle to carry the Bill. At the same time the staff should not be to expensive. The right hon. Gentleman ought to give a detailed statement to the Committee. Failing that, he hoped the Committee, in the interests of economy and good legislation, would not pass the Resolution.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

said that the whole estimate of the value of this Bill was how it was going to work. He had voted for the Second Reading, but he was bound to say that if he had thought it would have been referred to a Grand Committee he would not have done so. If was quite obvious that if the Bill was to come into operation the Home Office must have thought out what the expense of the working would be. Unless the Home Secretary could show the Committee that he had some accurate notion of the expense of working the Bill they must come to the conclusion that the Bill had been thrown on the House in a crude state, not properly thought out. He ventured to say that the Bill would require a great deal of amendment. In the course of the debate the Prime Minister had dwelt on the question of the right of asylum. That was an important element of the Bill, but there were other equally important matters which required considerable attention and amendment. What they wanted to know was in what direction the expenditure would take place, what sort or class of officers were to be put on to inspect and receive aliens. He was one of those who thought that a large number of aliens should not be allowed to come into this country, but the case of each individual should be considered. Had the Home Secretary considered how many of the inspectors should be women, because a very large number of these immigrants were women and children. He endorsed what had been said as to the necessity of placing the terms of the Resolution on the Paper before the Vote was discussed. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would be able to assure the Committee that estimates of expenditure under the Bill had been carefully considered and prepared, and that this Bill was to be a workable measure and not one intended merely for public consumption. He was certain that the Bill in its present shape would do a considerable amount of mischief.


said that some exception had been taken to the form of the Motion and the manner in which it had been presented. The form had become almost ancient. He contended that the terms of the Resolution did not conform to the Standing Order. That was not the view now acted upon. The view now was that when a Minister gave notice that the House should resolve itself into Committee that that was what the Motion meant. If they were not to have the sum named on the first making of the Motion in the House, at any rate they ought to have it in their possession fully and in a written form when they came to consider the matter in Committee. He had again and again constantly pressed that without the slightest success. He could only act on what he understood the Motion to be as read from the Chair. This was not a Resolution for voting any sum of money. What it did was to authorise the Committee dealing with this Bill to deal with the clauses which involved the expenditure of money. That money would appear in the Votes and if considered excessive could be discussed. He was not contending that the system was satisfactory; but it was not a fact that this Motion was a Vote for a sum of money. It was only a Motion to authorise the Committee to deal with the clauses authorising the expenditure of money. Further, the clauses in the Bill would determine the amount of money to be spent. If the Committee chose to reject the money clauses then no money would be spent. He would strongly recommend to hon. Members opposite the study of Standing Order 71, and also the study of the construction to be placed upon it, so that they might know when a Minister made a Motion without notice that to-morrow or the day after, "The House do resolve itself into Committee of the Whole House," they should not be taken by surprise, but should debate the Motion and if necessary divide on it. He was ashamed to be teaching the Opposition their duty; but they did not seem to be aware of the opportunities they missed. It was when the Motion was orginally made that the Opposition should have discussed it. Of course, they knew nothing about it then; they did not appear to know much more about it now. The Home Secretary had, forsooth, been asked to give an exact estimate of the sum to be expended under the Bill. That was impossible, because the right hon. Gentleman did not know what clauses would be retained or rejected by that extraordinary and, as he thought, most unconstitutional body the Grand Committee. The charges might be enormous. The right hon. Gentleman could not tell within £500,000 what they might be. They might involve the charges of a war for all he could say; but those charges would have to be put on the Estimates, probably as a Vote of credit in the ordinary way. There was a very serious grievance connected with these money Estimates. They did not know beforehand the amount of the Vote; and when they came to the actual consideration of it, not as he was convinced was formerly the practice when the amount and conditions were known, they had to consider a Resolution which was merely read from the Chair, and the terms of which were not before the Committee in writing. That was an extreme abuse; and he hoped to live to see the day when a Government would be in office who would remedy it.


said that the hon. Gentleman had instructed the Government as to the proper way of laying their financial proposals before the House. He had also instructed the Opposition as to the way in which to obstruct those proposals. All he would say was that he would welcome the aid of the hon. Gentleman in pointing out the mistakes of the Government. He thought, however, that there was a flaw in the argument of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman contended that if the Resolution were passed then the Committee upstairs would be forced to provide a sum for the working of the Act.


said that the hon. Gentleman was entirely wrong. The passing of the Resolution would not in any way compel the Committee to pass any clause involving expenditure.


said that there would be a moral obligation; and he assumed that a moral obligation had still some force even over hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was, however, a real difficulty in the matter. In America a large staff of inspectors were employed in carrying out the duties that would have to be carried out under this Bill; and it was a matter of notoriety that they had not been able to carry them out properly. Therefore, it seemed to him that with that experience before them it would be waste of money to make provision for a large staff of inspectors. It was notorious that alien immigration into the United States was on a scale which alien immigration into this country could not approach.


The hon. Member is really getting far from this Resolution. The Resolution simply authorises the Committee upstairs to consider the question; and the argument of the hon. Gentleman would be more appropriately addressed to the Committee.


said he accepted the ruling of the Chair. He did, however, wish to emphasise the point made by his hon. friend the Member for Poplar that the inspecting staff should include a number of women. They were often asked to put their finger on certain details of expenditure which they considered unnecessary, and which ought to be discontinued. There were now a large number of Customs officers who were recently engaged for the purposes of the corn duty. Why should they not be utilised as inspectors? He thought this was a matter of practical utility and, therefore, he recommended it to the right hon. Gentleman.


expressed a hope that the Home Secretary had prepared the statement referred to by his hon. friend. Without this Resolution the Committee could not consider Clause 7 of the Bill. It was in order to lay a foundation for Clause 7 of the Bill that this Resolution was necessary. That was the clause that gave power to appoint officers and so provide the remuneration and salaries of the persons employed. He did not know what estimate was possible but it was very desirable that the Committee should know generally what the expenditure was likely to be. They were taking the first steps now towards the creation of a new Department of State, and they ought to know in general terms the number of officers to be appointed and the cost which these matters would entail.


said he might point out that there had been no change of procedure in this matter, the terms of the notice of Motion of these Resolutions had always been vague, as the hon. Member for King's Lynn had pointed out. It had never been the practice to put the specific terms upon the Paper; he had not been discourteous to the House in any way in adopting that form because it was the form of procedure which had marked debates of this character for many years. The hon. Member for Dundee had pressed him for an estimate of what the expenditure would amount to but it was quite impossible to give any detailed expenditure, at all events until the Bill had passed through the Committee and assumed its final form and until they knew what they would have to provide for when the Bill became law. The hon. Member opposite had asked whether it was intended to create a large department to carry out the proposals of this Bill. The proposal was that the central duties proposed by this Bill should be carried out by the experienced staff of the Home Office. There would be no fresh department to deal with the matter, and though some additional staff, e.g., of inspectors, might be necessary a very large number of the duties would be performed by the officers of the Customs and the police. He could not make any statement to the House as to the figures nor as to the extra staff that would be required. It had not escaped his attention that it might be desirable, if not absolutely necessary to have an increase of staff. It was quite impossible at this stage to say what the exact staff would be, but it was not the intention of the Government to have an expensive establishment, at all events at first, to carry out the provisions of the Bill. If he had the figures he would give them with pleasure, but it was impossible to say what the expenses would be.

MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

said that the Committee had been gratified by the unexpected spectacle of the Secretary of State sheltering under the ample wing of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. Parliamentary necessities sometimes made strange bedfellows. The right hon. Gentleman was in this dilemna. Either the minimising estimate just given to the House as to the size of the staff to be employed was untrustworthy, or—and he was disposed to think this was the truth of the matter—the Bill would be a, dead letter. Let the Committtee remember for what the right hon. Gentleman had to provide. Under the Bill every passenger arriving at any port of the United Kingdom was to be examined to discover whether he was an alien, whether he was likely to become a public charge, and whether he had any visible or probable means of support. That work could not be performed by a mere policeman or Customs officer in his leisure hours, or by a few gentlemen at the Home Office. To suppose it was a manifest absurdity. Either this Bill was intended for gallery-purposes and was not intended to be put into practical operation, or it was a serious measure which the Government honestly desired to work effectively. In the latter event the provisions of the Bill could not be carried out without a large army of expensive officials. This was probably one of the most important aspects of the question and for himself, apart from the question of expense, he would vote against the Resolution on the ground that it was one and a necessary-step in the course of legislation which he considered to be absolutely detrimental to the best interests of the country, as well as being against our constitutional practice.

MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

said that all the Estimates of the Government were so wide of the mark that anything in the nature of exactness could hardly be expected from them. One reason why he hoped the Committee would reject this Motion was that the bottom would then be knocked out of this most offensive and unnecessary Bill. In all the ports of the country at which large numbers of passengers were constantly arriving the Bill was viewed with considerable anxiety.


said the hon. Member was approaching a discussion of the Bill itself; he must confine his remarks strictly to the authorisation to the Committee as set forth in the Resolution.


submitted that the Resolution was more than an authorisation to the Committee. It was an authority to the Committee to discuss this question, but if the italicised portion of the Bill were struck out the Committee would have no jurisdiction to deal with this special expenditure. It was perfectly idle for the Home Secretary to expect business men to believe that the cost would be limited to the provision of a few extra clerks in the Home Office; the Bill would involve expenditure at all British ports, on vessels in transit, and even in foreign ports, but to this fact the right hon. Gentleman had not alluded at all. The Resolution referred to the expensed, not merely of the detention of objectionable characters, but of their conveyance back to the port of embarkation. The Committee were entitled to know the extent to which the hon. Gentleman expected to put these clauses into operation, for surely the Government had ascertained the number of immigrants who came into the country and formed an estimate as to what the cost of administration would be. He stated frankly, however, the one reason he would vote against the present proposal was that if it were rejected this offensive, unnecessary, and un-English Bill could not possibly pass.

MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)

complained that the Government was placing the Committee in a most extraordinary position. The Home Department would have to deal with some 80,000 aliens, and yet they were seriously told that the Government had no idea of the cost of the administration of the Act. The House was told to practise economy, but the Government was taking a leap in the dark with regard to expenditure which might be very considerable. He would like to know if the Treasury had been consulted as to the cost of administrating the Act? If they had not, there might be friction between that Department and the Home Office. The Government, whatever their views might be of the merits of the Bill, had evidently gone into this undertaking without any consideration of its financial aspects.

MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)

said that the Home Secretary had placed the Committee in a most difficult situation. They had not the least idea from what he had said in a speech which should have been full of information whether he merely meant to add a typewriter or an office boy to his office at Whitehall, or whether he intended the Resolution and the clause in the Bill to cover establishments in every one of our great ports. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had any experience whatever of the landing of passengers in the United Kingdom other than that he obtained in the main ports for proceeding to the Continent. But at the port of Hull there were tens of thousands of passengers who arrived every year and did not intend to settle in the United Kingdom, but who crossed to Liverpool and thence to the United States. Could they imagine that the present staff of Custom House officers there would be anything like adequate for the careful inspection of every one of those passengers? At the Tyne there were thousands of passengers coming in the same way, in Leith there were many, and the same remark applied to Aberdeen, the Thames Harwich, and many of the Western ports Every one of those ports would require a very largely increased staff, and the Home Secretary told them that they were to be under the Home Office. What an extraordinary confusion of Government Departments. Custom House officers were, so far as the duties went, under this Act to be under the Home Office. He could not imagine that the Department under whom those officers at present served was likely to bear the expenses of this measure—which were bound to be very great in the large ports—without grumbling, and he feared very much that the Estimates would go up every year. But, as a matter of fact, the expenses would apply to accommodation as well as to persons. They might have to provide for the erection of establishments—compounds possibly—where detained aliens might be lodged while they were under examination. They might have to establish in every one of the great ports where passengers arrived something similar to the Spinning House which he knew at Cambridge in his day.


said the hon. Member's point might be relevant on the Committee stage of the clause, but it was not relevant on the present occasion.


submitted with all deference that he was not objecting to the establishment of those houses, but was pointing out that the Home Office had made no estimate whatever as to the expenses which they were likely to incur. But not only did the clause apply to accommodation but it also applied to other expenses. Those expenses might mean the payment of the fires for the sending back of aliens to the Continent or wherever else they came from. The Home Secretary had no idea what expenditure was going to be incurred under the three heads he had mentioned. From the point of view of economy that was a most improper procedure, and the Home Secretary had shown in his speech that he did not know at all how far this Bill was likely to carry him. The truth was that it was not only a leap in the dark so far as our national traditions went, but a leap in the dark so far as expenditure went.

*MR. LEVY (Leicestershire, Loughborough)

urged that the Government had no right to bring forward this Resolution without giving them some idea of what the expenses would be, because the Bill laid down clearly what would be the duties of the officers who would be appointed, and of the State Departments which undertook to carry out the Bill, and the necessary estimate might easily have been made. Undesirable aliens arrived at every port throughout the Kingdom and there would be no difficulty in the Government making an estimate of the number of people arriving in each port, and then arranging how many officers would be desirable to examine the people who arrived. If only certain ports were officered was it likely that criminal aliens would go to those particular ports? Certainly not. Unless they treated all ports alike it was clear that the Bill would work so as to exclude only those people whom they were told on the Second Reading it was not intended to keep out of the country. He did not think any Member who supported the Bill on the Second Reading would have done so had he thoroughly realised what the expenditure would be. It was useless to try and deceive themselves. The Bill, if it was carried out in the spirit in which it had been introduced into the House, must be administered so that in every port they would have to have people to examine every foreigner who landed, and all would agree that there would be some difficulty about that. Or was the Act to be worked so as merely to exclude the poor aliens and permit some of the most undesirable aliens, who were a scourge on society, to land on our shores freely, perhaps undesirable ladies who arrived at Dover, if they put plenty of rouge on their cheeks and wore fur cloaks, would be allowed to pass indiscriminately.


The hon. Member is really not addressing his remarks to the subject matter before the Committee. I must ask him to address himself to the Resolution under discussion.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.