HC Deb 27 June 1905 vol 148 cc345-52

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N. R. Thirsk) in the Chair.]

Clause 1.

MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W. R. Elland) moved an Amendment to provide that an immigrant should not be prevented from landing in the United Kingdom at ports where there was no immigration board under the Act. The object of this was to alter the proposals of the Bill with regard to those ports where the Home Office did not appoint an immigration board. There would be under the Bill two classes of ports. One would have immigrant officers, and aliens would be able to come in subject to examination by those officers. There would be other ports where no aliens could come in at all. The question he now raised was whether the ports where there were no officers were to be free or closed ports. His objection to the proposals in the Bill was that those ports where there were no immigrant officers would be penalised as compared with their competitors. The Home Secretary had stated that he could not tell exactly just yet what ports would have immigration officers, but he had indicated that at any rate the following were likely to be included in the list: London, Southampton, Newhaven, Hull, Grimbsy, Leith, the Tyne ports, and Liverpool. The result of appointing immigration officers at these ports would be that at the neighbouring ports no alien would be able to come in for the purpose of landing in this country, or for the purpose of transmigration. Newhaven would be able to carry on a trade with transmigrants, but Folkestone and Dover would not be permitted to do so. Hull and Grimsby would be able to carry on that trade, but Goole would not be able to do so. Leith would be able to receive immigrants, while Grangemouth would not be able to do so. They had been told by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs that the shipping, trade at Grangemouth did carry on a transmigration traffic at present. Why not let these be free ports, and, if any large number of aliens came in through them, it would be perfectly open to the Home Secretary in a month or two to place any port on the list and to appoint immigration officers. It would be impossible for any transmigration traffic to arise in the ports not scheduled in the Bill, even though they should become the natural ports for that traffic. The Committee were told by the hon. Member for Newcastle that in a great many cases the ships which brought aliens to this country were owned by foreigners. Supposing that at one of the ports not scheduled by the Home Secretary a British shipowner desired to start this trade, they were going to make it impossible for him to do so. The truth was that the promoters of this Bill cared nothing for shipping. They professed, through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, to bring in the Bill for the purpose of protecting the working classes—


We are all interested in shipping.


said there were no sailors in Birmingham or Sheffield. They had heard from the Attorney-General that no transmigrants were to immigration officers. That was a very unwise regulation, and they would do far better to leave all ports open, except those where officers were appointed.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 6, to leave out the word, 'landed,' and insert the words 'prevented from lan ling'—(Mr. Trevelyan)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word landed stand part of the clause."


said he did not entirely disagree with the argument of the hon. Member. He thought the Bill now provided very largely for what the hon. Member desired. If a transmigrant trade tended to any port, the Government would be ready to enable that port to receive the trade. What the hon. Member desired was that all ports should be open, and that we should have machinery in every port for dealing with immigrants. They could not have that because of the enormous expense which would be incurred in setting up machinery at every port. It would be far better to publish in the Gazette, or through an ordinary notice, at what ports they intended in the first instance to set up machinery, and then, as it was found necessary afterwards to increase the number of ports, to set up machinery wherever they found a tendency to a trans-migrant trade. There was no hardship in the point suggested, for the Bill was intended to regulate wholesale immigration. They could not stop the individual alien.

MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)

. Where an alien is refused at a scheduled port, could he not come in as one of a small number at an unscheduled port?


said that they were dealing with the wholesale immigration trade in the Bill.


Supposing an alien is rejected at one of the ports, could not the shipping company take him along the coast and get him entered through another port?


said it was being admitted that it was impossible to keep out the alien, and he maintained that the whole of the immigration of the last ten years could be overtaken in one month by the process of "infiltration" recognised by the Bill. He would appeal to the Committee as reasonable men whether, apart from any question of Party, it had not been proved that the only thing they could do was, under Clause 3, to expel an alien if he committed "any felony, or misdemeanour, or other offence for which the Court has power to impose imprisonment without the option of a fine." The Bill was directed against bringing in aliens in bulk, and that meant twenty or more at a time. Therefore, aliens could be imported to the number of nineteen at a time. He knew that the Bill was introduced in good faith by the right hon. Gentleman, but if the importation of aliens could still go on by "infiltration" the Bill was nothing less than a farce. The only way of dealing with the alien problem was to follow the advice of the responsible authorities, and expel aliens who were convicted of offences. On the right hon. Gentleman's own showing there would be "infiltration" through other than the scheduled ports, and that alien immigrants could come in nineteen at a time. He, therefore, asked him whether it would not be possible to pass Clause 3 and drop the rest of the Bill.


said he thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not appear to have read the Bill, or he could not have made so many mistakes in his speech. The Home Secretary had said at least a dozen times that there was to be no schedule of ports; and, in the second place, the power as to the number of immigrants admitted was vested in the Home Secretary, who could vary the number if he found it desirable. The owners of the lines of vessels which brought such passengers would find it essential in their own interests to establish a most effective scrutiny at the port of embarkation, and the whole thing would work without any of the difficulty which had been conjured up by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

MR. MCKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

said that under this Bill the bulk traffic in immigrants would be effectually put a stop to, but that was the part of the trade with which they did not want to meddle. They did not want to touch the through traffic, yet now the Attorney-General said that through-transit trade would be effectively checked.


said that hon. Gentlemen ought to know that the transmigrant trade was not subject to the conditions of the Bill.


said what he ventured to propose was that the vast mass of the trade consisted of transmigrant aliens, and that the Bill really provided for steps being taken to harass the transmigrant trade, whereas, in the individual trade, lunatics, and other undesirables, were people who did not come here in bulk. These were the people whom it was evidently not now the intention of the Government to keep out of the country, although the Prime Minister had told them recently that that was the sole object of the Government. He asked the hon. Gentlemen who represented the East End of London to give the Committer their views on the question. Were they satisfied that criminals, lunatics, and other undesirables were not going to be kept out of the country? Whatever the intentions of the authors of the Bill might be, the machinery was altogether so defective as to make this clause value

MR. PEEL (Manchester, S.)

said that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight had declared that nothing could be easier than for an immigrant ship to pass the scheduled ports and carry the immigrants round to a free port. His contention was that that would be an offence under the Act. It was unlikely that any shipowner would run the risk of a fine of £100, which was provided by the Bill, in order to carry to a free port an immigrant who was not allowed to land at a scheduled port. He had already said in the course of the discussion that the number of twenty was far too high; but it was perfectly obvious that if it appeared that the law was being evaded and that aliens were being brought in at free ports nothing would be easier than for the Home Secretary to limit the number to less than twenty, and to set up a new schedule of ports. In both cases the machinery of the Bill provided a remedy.

MR. J. A. PEASE (Essex,) Saffron Walden

said that the object at which they all aimed in supporting a Bill of this character was to keep out the un desirable alien, but that object would not be attained unless the clause were amended. For example, if these immigrants were not allowed to land in bulk at scheduled ports on the Tyne, they could come in at ports on the Tees, a few miles down the coast, in small groups of three or four, up to nineteen; and from these Tees ports they could readily reach the large industrial towns.


said that the Amendment of his hon. friend the Member for Elland was roughly whether they should express themselves in regard to this Bill affirmately or negatively—whether aliens should not be allowed to land except at scheduled ports, or whether they should be allowed to land at any other ports. The Amendment raised the clear issue whether there should be ports in this country which would be known as free ports. The hon. Gentleman opposite did very little to clear up the difficulty under which the Committee was labouring. By the admission of the Home Secretary the following case might occur: a ship with 300 immigrants on board arrived at a scheduled port, 285 passed the various tests, and were allowed to land and go forward as transmigrants, while the fifteen who were rejected simply went on to another port in another ship in possession of the same line of steamers, and got in there. He submitted to the Home Secretary that the machinery he was setting up would result in the residuum of immigrants rejected at any one of he specified ports going on to other ports not scheduled, and landing there with perfect impunity. This was really only the first of two Bills that were required. An Aliens Filtration Bill would have to follow in order to fill up the gaps with which this Bill did not deal. He had always heard that it was a maxim of the legal profession which the right hon. Gentleman opposite adorned that when you had no case you should abuse the other attorney. It was on that ground, he supposed, that the Attorney-General had accused the hon, and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight of not having read the Bill. They were told that if the shipping companies were squeezed enough they would put all sorts of illegal, or at any rate irregular, pressure on aliens at the port of embarkation. They were able to tie up the Government of the country to prescribe the conditions under which these people were to come here; but it was not for the House of Commons to say that any private companies would be entitled to encourage the practices he had referred to.

MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)

said it seemed to him perfectly obvious that any man from Germany, or Roumania, or elsewhere who was anxious to come to England, and who was rejected at one of the specified ports, would take the first available opportunity of going to another, say in a cattle boat, to a port where there was no immigration officer. If that could be done, it seemed to him that the whole scheme of the Bill was useless. The Home Secretary said that the Bill would not interfere with the development of the transmigrant trade, but now could that argument be advanced by a responsible Minister when shipowners were told that they must not land passengers except at eight specified ports? Take the case of Middlesborough. That port might be found suitable for the transmigration trade, but it would be impossible to foster that trade there because the Home Secretary had not set up machinery for it.

MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)

said that if, as was curiously contended by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the meshes of the Bill were too wide, it would be easy under the machinery created by the Bill to make the meshes narrow enough to catch the individual. Under the regulations of the Bill it was perfectly possible to specify the number of passengers which went to make it an immigrant ship. He welcomed the fact that the Government had not thought to go too strongly in their treatment of this subject. He thought it was far better that they should take the main lines of immigration and deal with them by adequate machinery. As one who, in the main, supported the Bill, he welcomed its elasticity and the desire of the Government to go gradually. Ai to the question of the transmigrant trade, it was perfectly true that that trade was an object of great solicitude to ship-owners; but the Government had put down an Amendment on the Paper which practically gave the Home Secretary power to take the transmigrant trade out of the scope of the Bill. All holders of through tickets would be exempted by that Amendment.

MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)

asked if his hon. friend suggested that there were no transmigrant immigrants who did not hold through tickets.


said that an immigrant who spent a few weeks in this country and then rebooked to the United States was certainly a transmigrant immigrant; but, so far as the shipping companies were concerned, they were content to have the through booking traffic protected as was proposed by his right hon. friend's Amendment. As regarded those who were not through booked, he admitted that there were difficulties under the Bill, and that it was quite possible that they might be injured, but that was a matter for further consideration.


said that surely the result of the debate had been to show that the machinery devised in the Bill made it impossible to obtain the ends desired. The Bill would stop, or at any rate injure, the perfectly legitimate trade which it ought to be the object of the House to promote.

And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.