§ Whereupon, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean), pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
In pursuance of a notice I gave at Question Time this afternoon, I rise to mention the question of the Government treatment of alien enemies. I am sorry that it has not been found possible to so arrange the Government business that we cannot have more than an hour to discuss the matter tonight, but I hope we may have another opportunity at no very distant date. I understand the Government has issued a notice to the hotel keepers in the country, and also to boarding-house keepers, to ask alien enemies—
Sir H. DALZIEL
Aliens may presumably stand also for alien enemies. The notice is to ask them, on arrival at an hotel or boarding-house, to give full particulars of their residence and where they arrived from and where they are going. I congratulate the Government on their belated action in this matter. I confess I find it somewhat difficult to understand why it was not found necessary that we should have particulars of these aliens arriving at our great hotels throughout the country six, eight, or, shall I say, even nine months before? Personally, I should have thought that the movements of aliens in this country at a time of war were of some importance, and might be of very considerable value to the Government in view of the times through which we are passing. However, I desire to take the opportunity also, as they have altered their policy on this particular point to which I have referred, to ask them whether they would deem it desirable to revise their whole policy with regard to the treatment of alien enemies in this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State has said two or three times in the last hour or so that we are at war. I heartily agree with him in the object with which he made that statement, and when we are at war we ought to deal with our enemies, whether they are abroad or whether they are at home. My view is, and I say it frankly, so far as the Govern- 1607 ment treatment of these alien enemies is concerned, that I have absolutely no confidence in them whatever. I have supported them now for nearly a quarter of a century, and if anybody deserves the description of "party hack," I think I have deserved it, for I have very seldom departed from it. But in this matter I have absolutely no confidence whatever in them, and I believe I am expressing the view of men of moderate opinion, and I believe of every political party outside the House.
Take the position as it stands at this moment. We have seen the Government do little with regard to this question until there has been public violence. There was an internment of aliens when the bakers' shops at Deptford were sacked. I deplored that. We all deplored that; but I also deplore the state of things which enables the Government to take no heed of public opinion outside. Those German bakers may be perfectly innocent, but it is regrettable that violence of that kind is necessary in order to move the Government in a matter of this kind. We have seen violence again in Liverpool last night, and what is the result? The result is that every alien enemy is interned tonight in Liverpool. Surely that is an indication to the people outside that you have only got to break the law, and the Government will listen to you. I think the Government ought to look about, and secure a policy on this question. I do not think they have ever had a policy on it. They have left it to different Departments, and have not had a central authority to deal with it in all its aspects. For my part I would not go so far as to say that every alien enemy should be interned, without an opportunity of presenting his case to some tribunal. I believe that public opinion to-day would certainly support the Government in interning every alien enemy of military age. You can even give them the right afterwards to state their case why they should not be interned. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the women?"] I will leave the women to my hon. Friend, as he is a greater authority on that subject than I am. For the moment I am simply suggesting that we should deal with male alien enemies. When we get that far, my hon. Friend will probably put forward his position, and I will hear what he has to say. We have got to move very slowly on these questions, and I think if at the moment we ask for the internment of alien enemies of military 1608 age we are probably asking as much as we are likely to get. It seems to me there is no reason whatever for this exhibition of inaptitude which has been shown.
Public opinion on this point, I think, is very nearly at breaking-point with regard to the patience that has been exhibited. I think we are asking our British working men to stand a great deal when we ask them to work at the same bench with Germans who are sniggering and laughing and congratulating themselves on a great tragedy such as we witnessed during last week. I think we are asking more than flesh and blood can stand. I know on my own personal knowledge of young men who joined the Army and who saw their positions, after they had gone, taken by Germans, and, of course, very little likelihood of getting those positions back again. Is it just that a man should give up a position, and see a German taking it from him when he has gone to fight for his country? I say there is something wrong. I say that this whole policy will have to be reconsidered, and changed. I met a deputation during this evening consisting of four eminent City men representing thousands of people, of Britishers, men of standing in the City, many of them with the Freedom of the City, and two or three thousand were, I believe, outside the House in their desire to impress on the Government the necessity for action being taken, not only in the public interests, but in the interests of the Germans themselves. There is every indication that unless something be done very serious results may follow. No one desires those serious results, but I appeal to the Government to take such steps as are necessary and to deal with this question in a complete and very serious fashion. I consider that unless they do so, the situation will become much more serious than it is at the present time.
We ought to consider in this matter what Germany has done to our people who are over there. I, personally, do not believe in reprisals; I am utterly opposed to reprisals, but this is not a case of reprisals, because all the Britishers of military age in Germany are interned. We in London here have very nearly 20,000 of them who have practically their complete liberty at present. In my opinion that is a very serious matter. You have got to wait and see what their importance is when you see, as I personally believe we shall, a Zeppelin attack on London. I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that thousands 1609 of those men have already got their positions allotted to them, and that they will be willing to occupy them when the time comes. Surely we all agree that Germany in this matter will stick at nothing. There is no rule which she is going to observe. We know further that whether a German changes his nationality or not nominally, he is still a German. We know that those men consider that they would be doing great service to the Fatherland if they were able to deal us a death blow in the heart of the Empire. I do not personally blame them for it. I think a Britisher would feel the same in Berlin for his country, even if he had changed his nationality. We must take these facts into consideration, whether we like them or not. I plead with the Government that they will at least take a new and a broader view of this whole question. It is useless to ask the Government to set up a central authority. I have asked that often, and have been refused. I ask them to look into this whole question, otherwise I am afraid they will see results which we would all deplore.
This is not a question which can be easily set aside. I venture to say if this House itself were asked to express its opinion freely, with no danger of Ministerial complications as to the policy to be pursued in regard to this matter, the Front Bench would find itself almost alone. Why treat the opinion of the House of Commons with contempt in a matter of this kind? We have supported the Government loyally, and we shall continue to do so, but there must come a time even in the history of this great War when the House of Commons is to count for something. In many questions they have paid no heed to the opinion of the House of Commons. I beg them on this question to find a new policy; they cannot pretend to have a policy at present. A policy which puts twenty or thirty thousand people in internment practically without inquiry, and leaves, I suppose, scores of thousands outside simply for no reason, or because they had no accommodation, is no policy at all. If the Government have a definite policy, let us hear it; but they have no policy at present. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has many responsibilities at present in connection with this great War, to promise us to-night that he will find time to take a fresh view of this whole question, and give us some assurance that something will be done in the interests of the State.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I wish to support strongly the views which the right hon. Gentleman has just expressed. I think it will be within the memory of the Home Secretary that many months ago I pointed out that if the Government did not govern in this case, the mob would take the law into their own hands, which would be deplorable. The right hon. Gentleman agreed with me that that would be deplorable. I think that has come about. I am absolutely convinced unless there is some policy and some definite policy which is understandable, with somebody responsible and not four heads of Departments responsible, there will be very serious doings in this country, which we shall all regret. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) spoke of the possibility of the visit of the Zeppelins. I have always thought we underrated Zeppelins in this country. They have got the power to lift a very heavy weight. I am convinced, unless something very strong be done, and very soon, if they drop fire bombs on this City you will find many of those twenty thousand Germans, who are now enjoying our hospitality, lighting up this City in twenty or thirty different places, and we shall say, "What ruffians they are," and so on. It will be the Government's responsibility if that occur. It is the Government's responsibility that the people are getting ahead of the Government. I have heard to-night that there are very serious riots. Directly you begin rioting, all sorts of innocent people suffer. It is the business of the Government to look after these matters—not the business of the mob to dictate what is to be done. It is like discipline; if you have bad discipline, you have a mutiny. If you have bad laws, or no laws at all, the people will take the law into their own hands.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Noble Lord is not entitled to say that. I have repeated again and again that the sole responsibility for the internment, or for the release of enemy aliens, rests, not with the Home Office, but with the War Office. The Noble Lord is not justified at this late stage of the discussion in forgetting that statement.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give me credit 1611 for not wishing to impugn anything he has said. What the House wants to know is, Who is responsible?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
If the War Office is responsible, let the Under-Secretary of State for War answer. We do not want four heads; we do not want, when we apply to one Minister, to be referred to another. We shall not get this business properly done under ordinary common-sense rules until we have a bureau such as has been suggested. People are getting really angry over this question, and they will get much more angry, particularly when that sort of argument is adduced. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that it does knock the bottom out of what we say if we are told, "It is not I; it is somebody else." If it is the business, not of the right hon. Gentleman, but of the Secretary of State for War, to intern these people, let the Under-Secretary tell us what he is going to do.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I hope he will. What we want is to stop all this nonsense, and have something definite done, in order to save the lives of these people themselves. I go so far as to say that. It is very unfair to our working men that they should have to meet these men. They are being insulted; they have borne a great deal; they will not bear much more. They will take the law into their own hands, which would be a very serious matter. I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us that there is a new policy. Up to the present, there has been no policy with regard to these enemy aliens. I want no reprisals. Let us be gentlemen and chivalrous, as we have always been. But, as far as Donington Hall and all that sort of thing is concerned, do you think the Germans are grateful? They treat it with contempt, smile at us, and think we are afraid of them. I want to see these people locked up. I do not want to see the poor waiter, the scavenger, the chiropodist, and the hairdresser locked up. Get hold of the people in high social positions, who are laughing at us, and will turn against us the first moment anything happens, such as an invasion or a Zeppelin attack.
We want fair play. We do not want to injure these people, but we want to put them behind barbed wire; and the first 1612 people to take are the people in high social position. France has done it. Germany has done it with gross brutality. I saw the other day a man who had come over—a fine strapping man he had been, only fifty-five years of age, but absolutely broken in health. He had neuritis in his leg, and you might have taken him for over seventy. I am not saying this to get reprisals. I want ordinary consideration for our own people, and not so much for aliens who would turn against us at the first opportunity. As to the "Lusitania," see what the Germans have thought about that—the most cold-blooded and brutal assassination ever perpetrated in any reign! Our working men do not like it, and they are not going to stand it. I am in sympathy with the working men, and with the whole of my countrymen. I am totally opposed to this cowardly policy. I reiterate it—this cowardly policy. It is against our people. We have been hospitable to these people. Do they come here for our good? Look at the way they treat our prisoners! When have the people in high position expostulated against the brutality to our prisoners in Germany? If they do that, I will believe them. What do they do? They smile and sneer, like the officers did when they saw those poor fellows who were "gassed." Let us take this question up strongly, fairly, with chivalrous sentiment, but with an iron hand. Intern these men as soon as possible, and before the people make you do it. Let the Government govern, and not let the people indulge in outrageous performances because the Government has not done their work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us a different answer from those we have hitherto received on this all-important question, which is getting graver every minute.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am the first to recognise the gravity of the question raised by my right hon. Friend, but I would like the House to realise—and I see the Leader of the Opposition is present—that I had no notice of its being brought forward to night until half an hour ago, when I was engaged in the conduct of a Bill in this House. Therefore, I am not in a position to make any exhaustive speech on the subject, nor to announce any new policy, because I have had no opportunity—
Sir H. DALZIEL
I gave public notice this afternoon after I had asked questions in reference to the alteration of policy as far as hotels are concerned, and also 1613 brought to the notice of the Government the question of rioting and other minor points. Surely the right hon. Gentleman might regard that as sufficient notice? I also informed the Secretary some hours ago.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am sorry I did not happen to be in the House at Question time, my own questions being over, when the right hon. Gentleman put his question. I only regret that he did not tell me personally that the matter was coming on.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will just say what I have to say; it will not take many minutes. I hope my right hon. Friend will not misunderstand me. I am only saying this by way of excuse in the difficult position in which I find myself. The Noble Lord, if I may say so, has used rather unguarded language—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I make a suggestion which may make the right hon. Gentleman's task easier? The right hon. Gentleman has said enough to show that he is not really prepared to deal with this question from a new point of view until after Cabinet consideration. I think the position has really become so serious that it would do harm if a statement which was purely perfunctory were made by the Government. Therefore, my suggestion is that the whole matter should be put off until to-morrow, when the right hon. Gentleman may be in a position to show that the Cabinet have considered the question, and are prepared to make a definite statement as to their intentions.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
It so happens that I have given notice of Motion on this very subject to raise it in its largest form. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to see that I should be provided with the opportunity of discussing that Motion, so that we may not be limited or restricted to the time of adjournment?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am afraid I cannot give an answer to the hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister is the only person to give that. I am obliged to the right hon. 1614 Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for his suggestion, which I quite recognise would be for the convenience of everybody, and in the interests of our countrymen. I think that his suggestion, if I may say so, is quite an excellent one, and one which I am most ready to accede to, but I would remind the House that notice has already been given that on the adjournment of the House to-morrow another question is to be raised.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government regards this, as I think they must, as a serious matter, they will give us the opportunity before they come to the end of Government business to enable the question to be discussed with some sense of its importance.
§ Mr. McKENNA
That to a certain extent will depend upon the business put down for to-morrow. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend would much rather deal with the question after he has had an opportunity of considering it than suddenly at a moment like the present. Perhaps, also, I may say that on the question of notice, that, as my right hon. Friend will remember, he asked me a Private Notice question upon a subject which related to an Order in Council dealing with all aliens, friendly as well as enemy aliens, a subject which had nothing whatever to do with the internment of aliens. The question of the registration of aliens is under the Home Office, and I answered it therefore as a Home Office question. Directly the right hon. Gentleman told me that he wanted to deal with the internment of aliens, I told him that that was a matter for the War Office. Unfortunately my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was engaged till somewhat late with other matters, and therefore I hope my right hon. Friend will be prepared to accept the statement that there was no discourtesy intended when his notice was not communicated earlier to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Inasmuch as the new policy must be, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite quite properly says, a matter for Cabinet consideration, and inasmuch as any large additional internment of aliens involves the very big question of accommodation and so forth, would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to agree that we should have to-morrow in which to consider it, the matter to be brought up on Thursday on the Adjournment?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I shoud be perfectly ready to do that, but I am quite serious and alarmed at the prospect of what may happen during the next few days. I should like, if the suggestion is adopted to put it off till to-morrow, that some statement should be made by the Government to show us and the country that they do realise the seriousness of the position, and are prepared to reconsider the subject.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I do not blame anyone in regard to what they say as to not being prepared to meet this case. It is for the House to judge. But I gave notice to the Government that I would pursue the matter, and that was sufficient notice, I think; and it was their business to be prepared and to find out who it was that should be prepared to answer.
§ Mr. McKENNA
My right hon. Friend gave no notice as to the internment of aliens at Question time. He only mentioned the subject in order—
Sir H. DALZIEL
No, no, that is not so! Surely the question of the treatment of aliens arises. The word "treatment" covers all, especially when as I mentioned the sacking of shops is taking place. I 1616 do not wish to press that, however. I am I quite sure that the course recommended I by the Leader of the Opposition, under all the circumstances, is the best course. The question as to how and when the matter shall be raised can be settled later, except that I think the sooner the better; and I give formal notice to the Under-Secretary for War that I shall ask either himself or the Prime Minister to-morrow whether they are going to have any new policy in regard to this question. If the answer is unsatisfactory, I shall ask them to give us the earliest possible moment to discuss it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I quite recognise that new circumstances have arisen, and that there is a feeling abroad which requires, and demands, some different treatment from that which has been adopted. That being so, and inasmuch as the Cabinet must decide what is to be done, and inasmuch as it is desirable that a statement should be made with as little delay as possible. I should prefer that the matter should be left over till to-morrow.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes before Ten o'clock.