HC Deb 29 March 1904 vol 132 cc987-95

In introducing this Bill to make regulations with respect to the immigration of aliens, I should like first to say that we have no intention whatever of unnecessarily interfering with the admission into this country of foreigners, or of throwing any unnecessary difficulty in the way of their general entry into this country. We readily recognise that a large portion of the alien residents in this country are among the most loyal, industrious, and law-abiding citizens of the kingdom. But there is a certain class of undesirable aliens who are not so welcome, and whose repatriation is very desirable. The number of aliens in this country, as shown by the census returns, has enormously increased in the last twenty years. In 1881 there were more than 135,000; in 1891, upwards of 219,000; and in 1901, nearly 287,000, or an increase in that period of something less than 152,000. I will remind the House that these figures do not really represent the number of the foreign element in this country, because all those who have been born to these aliens in this country are, of course, not included in these figures. Unfortunately, these aliens have a tendency to occupy very few centres in this country, and therefore their presence creates great difficulty in certain districts. Between a, fourth and a fifth of the whole of the foreign population in this country are residing in four or five centres. The last return shows that, excluding the large families which many of them have, something like 54,000 are residents in the borough of Stepney. There are other boroughs in London where large numbers have also taken up their habitation; and by their residence in these districts they have not only displaced a large amount of labour, but have also occupied a very large number of dwellings from which they have driven the bonâ fide inhabitants. There is also a large settlement of aliens in Scotland, to which my attention has been called quite recently by hon. Members opposite who are connected with trades unions and the working classes. Not only have these aliens living in these districts caused a great deal of overcrowding, with all its evils, and a displacement of British labour, but I am sorry to say, from the information which has reached me at the Home Office, that the feeling which exists between these settlements of foreigners in London and the native population is becoming very strained, and is really a very serious menace to the maintenance of law and order in these districts. This evil, I am sorry to say, is not likely to diminish; and, indeed, it is increasing. The immigration has increased very largely in recent years. The figures show that in 1902 200,011 immigrants landed in this country, and that in the following year there was an increase on that figure of over 7,000. A very large proportion of these come to this country en route to America; but it is fair to say that not less than 81,000 came to this country to stay in 1902, and 82,000 in 1902. Another point which I would ask the House very seriously to consider is that the class of aliens which we get here is not the class of aliens which at all makes the best citizens. It is the class excluded by the United States, and therefore it is fair to say that we only get the refuse, if I may use that expression, of those aliens who would otherwise be going to the United States. Another point which deserves very serious consideration is the increase of crime committed in this country by these aliens. The number of aliens charged and convicted has very seriously increased in the last three or four years. In the last five years the number increased by no less than 55 per cent.; and we have had representations not only from the London police magistrates, and the chairmen of quarter sessions, but from the Recorder, and even from the Judges, as to the very serious charges which are placed on the country by the maintenance of this large alien prison population.

It is on these grounds, and on these grounds only, that I think some interference on the part of the State is urgently required at the present time. I need not take up time by labouring the point. It seems to be generally admitted, at all events by the great bulk of the Members of the House, that it is a matter which should receive the attention of the House, and that the Government are fully justified in attempting some remedial measure. The House will remember that last year a Royal Commission which had carefully considered the whole of this question reported; and the Bill which I am now asking leave to introduce is based on the recommendations of that Commission. The Bill first of all repeals the Registration of Aliens Act, 1838. That is the only Act now in force, but the provisions of it are quite obsolete and quite unequal to deal with the present difficulty. In its place the Government propose that the Secretary of State, in some matters in consultation with the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board, shall have power to make regulations requiring the master of any ship landing these passengers to make the returns which were formerly made, but with very much greater precision and care, and to give the officers appointed for the purpose facilities to inspect such aliens as may be in those ships. Information may also be required from any alien as to his character and antecedents, as to his identification, and as to his proposed place of residence. He may also be required to give particulars of any change of residence within two years of his last entry into this country. The passengers may be inspected before landing, and aliens, under certain conditions, may be detained or altogether prevented from landing, and, where necessary, will be taken back to their own country. These regulations may apply generally, or to special ports, classes of voyages, or passengers, as the Secretary of State may prescribe. Another provision of the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to appoint officers, of course with the sanction of the Treasury, in order to carry out the regulations, or, if so prescribed, the Customs Officers or coastguards may be called upon for this purpose.

Coming to the question of inspection in the United Kingdom, the Bill provides that the inspecting officer may detain or prohibit the landing of the following classes: Persons who within five years have been convicted in any foreign country of an "extradition" crime, prostitutes or persons living on the proceeds of prostitution, persons likely to become a charge upon public funds, persons having no visible or probable means of support, persons of notoriously bad character, persons suffering from any infectious or loath-some disease, and persons refusing to give the prescribed information with regard to themselves. All these cases will be carefully considered by the Secretary of State, and he will, where necessary, make an order confirming the prohibition to land, or requiring the alien to leave the United Kingdom within a fixed time or giving him permission to land conditionally or unconditionally. And now with regard to the convicted alien. With that class of alien, at all events, I think there can be no sympathy whatever. Aliens convicted on indictment of felony or misdemeanour and sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment without the option of a fine, or aliens convicted by a Court of summary jurisdiction of an offence punishable by imprisonment for three months or more without the option of a fine and sentenced accordingly, may, as part of the sentence, be ordered by the Court to leave the United Kingdom on their release from prison. They will have to obey that order, or, if they do not, they will be proceeded against under the provisions of the Vagrancy Act, 1824, which, I am advised, will be amply sufficient for the purpose. I would point out that we have carefully guarded that the regulations under this Act shall be subject to any treaty obligations which we may have with foreign countries. As to the question of the areas in which these aliens live, the Local Government Board will take powers for full inspection and for fully dealing not only with the areas themselves, but also with the tenements and the houses in which they live. I have endeavoured to explain as shortly, but as clearly, as I could tire proposals of the Government, and I trust the House will see no difficulty in allowing the Bill to be introduced and read a first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to the Immigration of Aliens and other matters incidental thereto."—(Mr. Secretary Akers-Douglas.)

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said it was a great pity that the principal Government Bill of the session—one involving: matters of great delicacy and novelty so far as this country was concerned—should have been introduced under a rule which allowed only two brief statements to be made to the House. The Bill was accorded the distinction of first mention in the King's Speech, and it had a paragraph to itself. It was entirely beyond precedent, therefore, that such a measure should have been introduced in that manner. The first impression of a good many Members would be that the Government could hardly be serious in making this proposal at this moment, and some Members were likely to consult Mr. Speaker as to the possibility of moving an Instruction, on going into Committee, to make the Bill applicable to the Transvaal. It was an extraordinary fact that they should be called upon to consider a measure of this description which, for the first time, was going to prevent European white men from coming, at their own cost, as free men to a free country, at the very moment when the very same Government were engaged in sanctioning the importation of yellow men by Government intervention and under servile conditions into the Transvaal. And it was a curious fact that the Colonial Secretary, who, with Lord Milner, was the author of the one proposal, was also deeply concerned in the other. The right hon. Gentleman, whose name stood second among the signatories not making Minority Reports of the whole Report of the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, was no doubt familiar with the legal maxim winch said that a man might not take advantage of his own wrong; but he thought that that was what the right hon. Gentleman was doing on this occasion. If ever this Bill, or a Bill substantially like this, passed, and he believed it would pass for he knew he was speaking for a hopeless minority, it would be owing to the very excitement which had been raised over this question by the proposals of the Colonial Secretary.

The ground upon which he based his opposition to the Bill—on which he had in the past and always would oppose measures of that kind—was that the majority of the aliens who came to this country and who would bo struck at by the Bill were the helpless victims of political and religious persecution. With regard to the Russian Jews at Stepney they largely came to this country because of the persecution they were subjected to at home, and the Roumanian Jews wholly came here from that cause. What he was afraid of was the vague and dangerous form of the regulations, which were left absolutely at the discretion of the Home Secretary. They might have, and he was afraid they would have, the effect of excluding from this country persons who came under conditions which had been their pride in the past, and many of whom had asked, received, and blessed our hospitality in the past. One point was referred to by the Home Secretary on which there was the keenest difference of opinion. It was the fact that in recent years the Trades Congress, representing the organised workers of this country, had ceased to be asked to pass that resolution which years ago they used to pass unanimously. The Trades Congress now believe that they are able to absorb the small number which we receive as compared with the numbers which other countries receive, and that these men are capable of, and are being made into, good trades unionists in this country. The speech of the Home Secretary, as regards numbers, is not, I think, fully borne out by the census and the Report. We have in this country under 250,000 foreigners, i.e.,the resident population of all kinds of foreigners in this country, rich and poor; and it is a mere drop in the ocean, infinitely smaller than the number of foreigners who inhabit almost every other country in the civilised world. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the rapidity with which they are coming. That rapidity has been alleged by the hon. Member for Sheffield for the last fifteen years, and alleged on figues which have always broken down when tested by the census. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] The census itself shows that there are under 250,000 of these people, the vast majority of whom, the Home Secretary admits, are excellent subjects. It is asserted that the children of these destitute aliens are destitute aliens in fact, although British subjects in name; but no one who has read the Report can doubt that the overwhelming majority of the children of these people go to our Board schools and speedily mix with the population. We are not a destitute-alien -importing people so much as we are a destitute-exporting people. There are far more Britons who go destitute into foreign countries, to earn their livelihood than destitute aliens who come here.

MAJOR EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

Is the right hon. Baronet quite correct in saying "destitute"?—surely the emigration from this country is carefully selected.


I think anyone who has watched the emigration from Ireland can see that alien emigration is of that description.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

To the United States?


I repeat that my view of this measure is that it will be used to exclude from this country people whom we shall afterwards be ashamed we have excluded. Under this measure, had it been in force at the time of the Paris Commune, it is certain that many of the most distinguished exiles who arrived in a state of starvation, and whose return to their own country was afterwards welcomed by their country as a whole, with every expression of gratitude to this country, because we maintained and supported them in their work, would have been excluded men like Dalou, one of the greatest sculptors of modern times, who came starving to this country, and to whom a commission was given by the late Queen Victoria to save him from starvation; a man who, after refusing private and personal pardon when a general amnesty was granted, years afterwards, returned with dignity to his country. Many of the finest and noblest men—for there were many fine and great and noble men in that movement—were destitute exiles who might have been stopped under this Bill. From Russia there came men like Prince Peter Kropotkin, who was stripped of every particle of his property by the Russian Government when he arrived here, and was afterwards welcomed by the people of this country; at other times there had come as destitute exiles, men like the M.M. Reclus brothers, the great geographers to whom we were now proud to have given hospitality. With regard to the Russian Jews, against whom the heaviest allegations are made, they are the people who inhabit Stepney and other portions of the East End, and of whom there are some in Manchester and Leeds. Some 20,000 of these people are engaged in tailoring in this country; some 3,500 in cabinet-making, and some 3,000 in the boot and shoe trade. These are, in fact, the whole people against whom this, agitation is directed; and it is because of the feeling directed and excited against these men that we are asked to pass this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Tower Hamlets has visited the country of "the pale." I do not know whether he has seen, as I have seen, broken-down prisoners from within the pale—men who, for political reasons, were sent across Siberia because they were the ringleaders in revolutionary movements. Those men are not the dangerous persons, and not the miserable persons, they are represented to be in this country. Miserable as may be their condition when they come here, they are not of a stock inferior to our own. They are of a stock which, when it mixes with our own in course of years, goes rather to improve than to deteriorate the British race. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh!"] Well, I will not detain the House any more. I will not read to the House—because hon. Members ought to read for themselves—the statements which were made on this very subject in the Report which we hold in our hands. But I would ask the House to listen to the words of a man who has gone from us—I mean Mr. Lecky—who wrote of the persecution which sends these people to this country— The Russian persecution stands in some degree apart from other forms of the Anti-Semitic movement on account of its unparalleled magnitude and ferocity. That I believe to be the case. It is because of the dangerous powers which are given to the Home Secretary to make regulations which, I believe, cannot but have the effect of excluding these persons that I have grave hesitation in doing anything but oppose this Bill. I have known many strange scares in this House, but I never knew so strange a scare, even under the odd circumstances of the present Government, at the present time as that which caused the tremendous whip to-day, and the appeal even in their newspapers to Members to come down and save them in the division. I make the frankest admission to hon. Members opposite. I am not going to divide the House—[Ironical MINISTERIAL cheers]—because I am certain that having regard to the fact that some of my friends who sit here were pledged to legislation of this kind, even before the Member for Sheffield, they would at least vote for the introduction of this Bill. But that is no reason for not stating to the House as I have done, and, I hope, frankly, why I cannot support the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary Akers-Douglas, Mr. Secretary Lyttelton, Mr. Long, Mr. Attorney-General, and Mr. Cochrane.

Forward to