HC Deb 09 September 1914 vol 66 cc563-7
7. Mr. KING

asked the Secretary for the Home Department whether he is aware that certain alien enemies in this country have obtained offers of work abroad in neutral countries or on neutral ships sailing from foreign ports; and whether he will facilitate the issue of permits to depart to such aliens as can give satisfactory proofs of being in this position, seeing that otherwise they must remain here to be a burden on this country either in workhouses or concentration camps?


I can assure my hon. Friend that all good reasons which an alien enemy may advance when he applies for a permit to leave the United Kingdom will be carefully considered, special regard always being had to the interests of this country.

Mr. F. HALL (Dulwich)

asked the Home Secretary the total number of naturalised and registered Germans and Austrians in this country whether there is reason to believe that there is a considerable number of alien enemies resident here who still remain unregistered; and if, in view of the great assistance rendered to Germany in her campaign in Belgium and France by the co-operation of German agents and spies resident, and in some cases naturalised, in those countries, it would be possible to adopt a more complete system of protection against the dangers presented by the continued existence here of large numbers of Germans and Austrians who are still free to communicate in various ways with their Governments, and to take steps which would facilitate aggressive action against this country?


asked the Home Secretary how many alien enemies have been registered up to date, and what proportion he is advised are still unregistered; and whether, having regard to the widespread feeling of alarm regarding the presence of German spies in our midst, he will appoint a small, but strong, non-party Committee to advise him as to the best steps to take to secure the safety of the country in this respect?


A Subcommittee was appointed by the Committee of Imperial Defence as long ago as March, 1910, to consider the whole question of the treatment of aliens in time of war. After a close investigation of the question, the Sub-committee made a Report, the proposals of which were confirmed by a full meeting of the Committee, and this Report has been adopted by the Government in all its details and formed the basis of the Order in Council made under the Aliens Restriction Act which was passed by this House on the 5th of August. The steps thus taken have been reviewed and approved by the Government, and are considered proper and sufficient by the naval and military authorities.

I will read to the House a report which I have just received from the Commissioner of Police:—

"Since the declaration of war the police, who have been strengthened for the purpose, have thoroughly investigated all cases where they had reason to suspect espionage, as well as some 8,000 or 9,000 reported to them by members of the public. Searches have been made, and all documents found have been scrutinised. As a result, in about ninety eases only was the suspicion of espionage sufficiently strong to warrant detention.

As a result of these inquiries and of the examination of thousands of documents, it may be affirmed that not a tittle of evidence has been obtained indicating any combination amongst alien enemies to commit acts hostile to this country, or of any kind of military organisation among them. The police, who have special opportunities for gauging the feeling among alien enemies, are satisfied that no organisation exists amongst them for carrying out hostile acts.

There is evidence of organised espionage before the War, and individuals are credibly suspected of a desire to communicate information to Germany. Such persons are invariably arrested and relegated to military custody. About 1,600 alien enemies have been made over to the military in London."

After the most careful consideration and experience of the working of the Aliens Restriction Act we believe that the action taken is adequate for the present, and is such as to remove any ground whatever for public apprehension. The police and military will remain on the alert, and take whatever further precautions are necessary in any emergency when the occasion arises. I have no figures as to the number of naturalised persons now in this country, but at the time of the last Census the number of naturalised Germans in England and Wales was 6,500.

I cannot agree with the statement in the last part of the question that large numbers of Germans and Austrians are still free to communicate with their Governments. The closest supervision is maintained over their movements and communications. Fifty thousand, six hundred and thirty-three Germans and 16,141 Austrians and Hungarians have been registered throughout the United Kingdom. These figures include a number of cases returned for more than one district.

I have no reason to think that any considerable number of alien enemies (other than those who are in military custody) have not been registered. I would ask the House to compare these figures with the figures currently stated in at least one newspaper, that there are 250,000 armed Germans in this country.


May I ask whether, in order to further allay public anxiety, he would call together again the Sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence and let them reconsider the matter and make suggestions to meet the present situation?


The Government have reconsidered the question and their present action is taken with the full approval and support of the military and naval authorities. I do not think that any other Sub-committee could possibly have the same authority.


Do the figures cover the United Kingdom?




May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as a means of taking further precautions, whether he will consider the advisability of doing away with the fines in cases in which aliens have been brought before the authorities and found guilty and fines inflicted; and consider the necessity of inflicting in every case imprisonment?


As the hon. Gentleman knows, the discretion of the magistrates is not in my keeping. Where a breach of the law is committed it is in the discretion of the magistrates to determine what the punishment should be, and I think it would be highly improper for the Executive to interfere with the judicial functions now existing.

Sir J. D. REES

Is the right hon. Gentleman giving certificates of naturalisation to persons who applied at or immediately after the announcement of the War?


Yes, Sir. In certain cases where it is in the public interest that foreigners should be naturalised I have granted certificates. I may say that the number of applications includes many thousands, and even if it were proper it would be impossible to meet the innumerable applications which I have received. Perhaps I might take this opportunity of reminding hon. Members throughout the House, from whom I have received a great many requests in regard to particular persons, that it is almost impossible for the Home Office to deal with the enormous number of applications which are strongly recommended by Members of Parliament to naturalise particular Germans and Austrians.


Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's first reply, in view of the danger of having amongst us these alien enemies who are armed, will the right hon. Gentleman further consider the possibility of arming the regular members of the police force, especially when they are stationed in the districts where there are many aliens?


Some of them are armed.


I think that that is a question which should be put down for to-morrow.