HC Deb 18 April 1911 vol 24 cc623-9
The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)

I desire to ask leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law with a view to the more effectual control of criminal aliens and the prevention of crime by aliens.

In asking leave to introduce this Bill I shall not need to trespass beyond the limits of the period assigned to the introduction of Bills under the ten minutes rule, because I do not think the Bill raises any important question of controversy as between parties, or indeed in any quarter of the House. This Bill does not touch the question of alien immigration. It is confined solely to the question of alien crime. It deals with the prevention of crime and with the expulsion of persons convicted of crime. We cannot, I think, set up a cordon at the eighty or ninety ports of the country which are occasionally used as places where aliens land upon our shores. We cannot attempt by such means to prevent the entry or the return of particular individuals to this country. It is not practicable, and if it were practicable it would not be worth the money and the vexation it would entail. Neither, I venture to think, will it be found possible to establish a system of registration for aliens—whether for those who are already in this country or for new-comers. I do not at this moment intend to go into the arguments on that point, except to say that I am confident that as they are examined by the House, or by the Committee, it will be found that a method of registration is not necessary, and would not be either convenient or desirable. But there are certain things which we can do to meet the plain requirements of the day; there are certain things, I think, we ought to do without panic, prejudice, or haste, but at the same time without delay.

It was common ground between the two sides of the House in 1905 that on whatever points we differed we were agreed that when an alien has been convicted of a crime and has committed a breach of hospitality, the court should have the power to add expulsion to any sentence of imprisonment given. The present law is that the courts have power to recommend the expulsion of every alien who is convicted of a crime for which the punishment is imprisonment without the option of a fine. The courts, especially the courts outside the Metropolitan area, have very largely failed to use the powers accorded to them by general consent in 1905. I think the main cause of their neglect is forgetful-ness. I have on several occasions since I held the present office noticed speeches by Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, or by Recorders, in which they complain very strongly of the lax administration of the Aliens Act; yet upon investigation it was found that these same magistrates or recorders had on numerous occasions imposed very inadequate penalties on aliens who had returned after being expelled, and had not infrequently sentenced aliens to imprisonment without recommending them also for expulsion. Out of 2,271 convicted aliens received into prison in 1910 only 405 were recommended for expulsion. I see no reason why that number should not be largely increased. The Bill which I ask leave to introduce proposes to invert the present procedure in this respect. Whenever the court does not recommend that the alien should be expelled the court will be called upon to furnish its reasons for not putting that part of the law into force. I think that it is a much better way of dealing with it than conferring arbitrary and discretionary powers upon a Secretary of State. So many arbitrary and discretionary powers are conferred upon the Home Secretary nowadays that he is certainly the last person to desire any multiplication or extension of the number. I am advised, I may say, that the mere inversion of the procedure will probably have the effect of greatly increasing the number of expulsions of criminals under the Act; and it will do that without in any way removing the matter from the jurisdiction of the courts of law. In the second place, I come to the penalties for aliens returning to this country after expulsion. I think it is a very serious offence for an alien to return to this country after having been told to go away. It is a very contumacious act, And the fact that it is not always detected, and very often not found out at all, and usually, when it is found out, not until a long time afterwards, makes it necessary that there should be punishment imposed that will be an effectual deterrent on this open defiance of the law. The penalties now assigned for the punishment of the alien who returns to this country after an expulsion order has been made against him are that he is liable to three months' imprisonment for the first offence, and a year for the second. We propose under this Bill to increase these penalties to twelve months for the first offence, and two years for the second or subsequent return.

I have so far dealt with provisions of the Act dealing with the expulsion of aliens who have actually committed crime. I now pass to the provisions which deal with the prevention of crime. I ask the House of Commons and Parliament to give us powers to call for sureties in certain cases. With respect to this there are two things which we have to avoid, and which, so far as the Government are concerned, we shall be resolute to avoid. First of all we must avoid any withdrawal of the right of asylum which this country has so long accorded to those who have sought refuge from oppression or persecution abroad. It is an old and valued principle of British policy. In the history of this country, as everyone knows, we have gained greatly by its observance. The second thing which we have to avoid is any unnecessary disturbance of the great bulk of the alien population—mainly Jewish in its character—which is a population in overwhelming degree composed of peaceful, hard-working, and law-abiding people, who certainly have not by their conduct in this country in any way called for measures which would expose them to anxiety or inconvenience. I am familiar with both points, and I have very often urged them in discussions upon the subject. I can assure the House that I bore them fully in mind in framing the legislation which I now ask leave to introduce.

In regard to the power of calling for sureties I propose to confine the scope of that power to what has been well described as "the unassimilated alien." If a man has lived five years in this country and has been clear of crime during that period, although he may not be naturalised he should be exempt from the operation of this Clause—from the liability of being called upon to find sureties. A man may be too poor to pay the naturalisation fees, yet he may be a very good citizen. He may have established here ties of a very intimate character, and he will in that time have had the opportunity of learning our ways, and we, on our part, will have some assurance of his character and conduct. The man whom we have in mind in this provision is the man of whom we know nothing, and who knows nothing of us or of our institutions and peaceful life, who comes from a country where murder and violence are common, where every policeman is regarded as a foe, where every institution is regarded as tyranny, and where, to carry on a career of plunder and rapine like a fierce wild animal, may be deemed to be a romantic and even a respectable profession, I think we are entitled in these days, when communication is so cheap and easy—I go further and say I think we are bound—to arm ourselves with new powers in dealing with this class of person and to place ourselves in the position of being able to exact some guarantee which will enable us to protect our people from outrage and ill-usage. I do not think we are bound to wait until someone is actually murdered. We therefore propose, in certain circumstances, to enable the Courts to require sureties for good behaviour, though no crime has been actually committed. I do not think I could do better than read the actual paragraph of the Bill:—

"2. (1) If a complaint is made to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction that an alien is consorting with criminals or with suspected persons, or is otherwise living in circumstances which will make it likely that his continued stay in this country will lead to the commission of crime, the Court may order the alien to enter into recognisances and find sureties to be of good behaviour for such period, not exceeding five years, as the Court may direct."

I should like to point out that these words are drawn so that the provision will apply only to vulgar crime, and only to persons who have not been five years in this country. The great mass of the alien population therefore need be in no anxiety in consequence of it, and the sureties would be no burden to bonâ fide political refugees or the victims of religious persecution. There never was a time in this country when bonâ fide political refugees would not be able to get two citizens of this country to vouch for their good behaviour and non-participation in vulgar crime; but in default of sureties, and in default of five years' residence, after a primâ facie case has been made out to the satisfaction of the court that a man has been consorting with criminals or otherwise in the terms of the section I have read, and in the absence of any persons to vouch for his good behaviour, then I think we should be in the position which every other nation in the world has always asserted—namely, to ask a person so destitute of any guarantee of good behaviour to go. These are the three principal provisions of the Bill. There is one other as to which I shall say a word—that is in regard to the carrying by aliens of firearms—and let me say by "firearms" I mean pistols. We do not include, for the purposes of the Act, guns or rifles.


Or the knife?


A knife is not a firearm. Guns and rifles are used for sport, and obviously can be seen when in persons' hands, but pistols are easily carried concealed, and are used for one purpose only, and that one purpose is the destruction of human life. And every month that passes these weapons become more dangerous and deadly both to the general public and to those who use them.

The Government purpose shortly to introduce a Pistols Bill into the House of Lords which, I hope, may commend itself to the favourable consideration of that Assembly, and in regard to the details of which we are now in communication with the representatives of the gun trade; but in the present Bill we propose to require aliens to obtain a special permission from the police before they can carry or possess pistols, and to empower the police, if they have reason to believe that an alien is carrying a pistol, to ask him for his licence, and in default of his presenting it, to take his name and address, and in default of his giving his name and address, the police will be empowered to take such other steps as are right and necessary. We shall also take power on the warrant of a magistrate to search for arms where there is reasonable ground for believing that an offence under the Act is being committed. These are the provisions of the Bill which I trust may commend themselves to the House as not being dictated or inspired by any insular prejudice or by any desire to deprive persons of the right of asylum within our shores which they have so long enjoyed, but which are intended to be workable and workmanlike provisions to meet certain dangers which are apparent to all of us in all parts of the House, and certainly no less apparent to the eyes of the public out of doors. I notice there is a Bill on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Goulding) which is to come on for consideration, I think, on Friday week. I venture to suggest that the Government Bill should be introduced to-day, and might be set down for Second Reading after the Bill of the hon. Member for Worcester, and then perhaps the House would consider it right to send both Bills to Grand Committee to be considered together, in which case some legislation may be arrived at which will be found to possess a very general measure of House of Commons agreement.

Bill to amend the Law with a view to the more effectual control of Criminal Aliens and the Prevention of Crime by Aliens, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Pease, and Mr. Masterman. Presented accordingly, and read the First Time; to be read a Second Time upon Friday.