HC Deb 14 February 1917 vol 90 cc704-17

May I associate myself with the speech we have just heard. Such a speech shows how entirely all sections in the country are behind the Government in their determination to carry this War to the only issue which the people of Great Britain will ever have, and that is a victorious issue. But while we are absolutely satisfied with the way in which the War is being carried on both by land and by sea, there is an idea in many of our minds that, in regard to Germans in our midst, a little more severity might possibly be used. I wish to ask the new Home Secretary if he can give us a statement as to the policy of the new Government in regard to this question. We have had during the War three Home Secretaries who began with 70,000 aliens uninterned, and I think there are now about 35,000. Some have been sent home. But the last figures we were able to get from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuel) was that there were still some 22,000 uninterned, of whom, I think, 14,000 or 15,000 are in London and the immediate neighbourhood. I quite agree that a large number of these are Czechs, Poles, Armenians, and so forth, who are entirely friendly disposed to the country; but there is still a very considerable number of Germans, and I want the Home Secretary to give us a definite statement as to the probability of more determined measures by the new Government in regard to the internment of these remaining Germans. In June last it was clearly laid down by quotations from speeches of the then Prime Minister, and I think the then Home Secretary agreed, that the idea at the commencement of the War was that all enemy aliens should be interned unless there were definite reasons in individual cases to the I contrary. Then an Advisory Committee was set up to which 14,000 cases were sent and 6,092 exemptions were granted. I cannot help feeling that those exemptions were not granted in the interests of the country, and I have never had any satisfactory answer from the late Home Secretary as to whether all those exemptions were granted in the interests of individual Germans or in the interests of the country.

After the speech we have heard, I stand here to say that the interests of the individual German, after two and a half years of war such as has been waged by his fellow-countrymen in Belgium, Serbia and France, is no longer to be considered. What they have to consider is that no German should be allowed to be uninterned or unrepatriated. I do not mind which. I would far sooner that they were sent back to their country than interned here, even though they were of military age, but no one should be allowed to re- main uninterned unless there is a most specific and definite individual reason in the interests of the country why he should be uninterned. You can still find German life going on in London almost the same as it was two years ago. There are German restaurants with German menus and German notices on the walls still existing in the heart of London, which furnish meeting-places for Germans. I have taken the trouble to send in names to the Home Office, and one or two have been interned, but there is still a considerable number kept open. There was also a German dentist trading under an English name. I am not sure whether he has yet been interned. There can be no possible need for a German dentist to be allowed to carry on business in competition with English dentists any longer. I do not think there is the slightest shortage of dentists. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, there is!"] A shortage of dentists? [HON. MEMBERS: Yes."] Do hon. Gentlemen really say it is desirable to have a German uninterned in our midst carrying on a dentist's business because there is some shortage of dentists? Personally, I would sooner have the toothache for a week than go to a German dentist. I think it would be more patriotic. At all events, hon. Members will agree that there is no need for a German dressmaker. There is a German dressmaker who has been carrying on business for some time. I reported the case to the late Home Secretary. The man openly boasts that he has not been interned because he has "high customers." He is a very swell man in Bond Street, and he boasts that he has well-known customers and that nobody would think of interning him.


What is his name?


His name is Kraft. He is quite a well-known dressmaker. He has a very high-class clientele, and there is no reason why he should not have from his own point of view; but I do blame a man who openly boasts that is the reason he is not interned. There is no reason why that man should not go. There are large numbers of them. Every Member of Parliament has had cases sent to him. Only the other day I gave notice to the Home Secretary of a case in the City of London where a furrier's business is carried on to-day with nine Germans out of thirty-two employés. Two of them who were interned have been got out again, and they have been re-employed by this, shall I say, Anglo-German firm which poses as an English firm. They have been trying recently and persistently to get out of internment another German who has been in the German army. I am pleased to say that they have not got him out yet, but, if they succeed in doing so, you will see him employed there again. I sent my own secretary down to this place of business, and one of the partners told him, quite frankly, that they did employ Germans, and the reason he gave was that if you went to his competitors, Messrs. "So-and-so," you would find that they were employing more Germans than he was. This is after two and a half years of war! This worthy gentleman poses as an Englishman, but he speaks with such very German accent that my secretary said, "Surely, you are a German?" He replied, "Oh, no, I am not a German, though I was educated for five years in Germany." That, I think, shows that at heart the man is a German. To-day you have a man who has been educated in Germany, and who is of German extraction——


What about Lord Milner, who was born there?


I am not defending Lord Milner, but Lord Milner has undoubtedly done very great services to the State and he is doing very great services to the State now. This particular person has certainly done no service to the State comparable with that of Lord Milner. These German businesses are being conducted to-day just the same as prior to the War. After two and a half years of war this firm has a form of agreement for all its people to sign, printed both in English and in German. Here it is, and anybody can see it if he wants to do so. The reason they still print it in German, they told my private secretary, was that they have so many German workpeople who do not understand English, and they sign the German part. That is not the desire of the people of Great Britain. We want this War carried on at home with the same determination as it is being carried on abroad.

I wish to call attention to the position in the prohibited areas. Around the coast, where there are dangerous centres. The late Home Secretary appointed a Commission some few months ago, and it has now reported. They found, after two years of war, that there were 4,294 enemy aliens living in prohibited areas. What is the good of having a prohibited area if you allow 4,200 enemy aliens to reside in it? I agree, of course, that all these men are permitted to reside there by the chief constable of the particular district, but I venture to say that the view of this House is of more importance than that of a chief constable, and if the House says, as it has said, that prohibited areas should not be utilised as living places for Germans, no police constable should allow Germans to reside in those areas, unless, as in some cases, they are in asylums, and so forth. The Commissioners found, after two years of war, there were 120 males and 333 females whose licences they induced the different chief constables to withdraw. In consequence of my right hon. Friend's Commission those 400 aliens were got rid of from the prohibited areas, and they reported sixty-six more cases for the opinion of the Secretary of State. They thought that these sixty-six cases should be considered by the Secretary of State, with a view to turning them out of the prohibited areas. I should be glad if my right hon. Friend would tell us whether lie has yet had time to consider those cases and whether he has sent them out of the prohibited areas.

I find that there are actually 287 men of military age still residing uninterned in prohibited areas. It is only fair to say that of these some sixty-four are members of religious communities. They are members of the Roman Church. I make no attack upon any particular religion, whether Lutherans or Quakers, but I say, quite frankly, that to-day we do not want—and after the War we do not want—religious communities of Germans living together in our midst. There is no particular advantage to this country in having in our midst a monastery such as that in Dorsetshire, with forty inmates, either from a trade point of view or from any other point of view. I cannot conceive any reason why they should be there, and I venture to suggest that my right hon. Friend should make arrangements to remove these communities, either now or certainly after the War, to their own country, where no doubt they will have a warm welcome. I do not think it right—and I am quite sure the hon. Member who preceded me would agree—that it is not light, that Germans should any longer have the sanctuary in our midst that they have at this particular time. I want further to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the question of deporting this large number of alien enemies either now or at the conclusion of the War? The previous Home Secretary told us on the 7th August, and also on 22nd November, that this question was being considered.


Will my hon. Friend answer this question? What has become of the two Germans that he himself got naturalized?


My hon. Friend is very kind. In the early part of the War, for business purposes, I forwarded to the Home Secretary of the day a petition from my own Constituency. It was my duty to forward it, and, if it had been the hon. Member's Division, and his constituents had sent him a petition, it would have been his duty to forward it. I had nothing to do with their naturalisation; the decision was that of the first Home Secretary. He in his wisdom naturalised them, and I have not the least idea where they are to-day. In the Debate on 29th June the Home Secretary said I had complained that when all these 30,000 aliens came out of internment they would resume their businesses, which had been kept alive, and continue them in competition with English traders: I do not know why he should assume that should be so. It would be rather premature now to say what course will be adopted with the interned Germans, but I can tell him, so far as I am concerned, that is not at all the consummation present to my mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1916, Vol. LXXXIII.] I rose at once and pointed out the importance of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman had made, and asked him if he could tell us what was the policy of the Government, and he said he could not at that time. Later he informed myself and other Members that the question was being considered by His Majesty's Government, and on 17th October my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Melton Division (Colonel Yate) asked the Prime Minister whether those Germans would be repatriated and allowed to go back after the War. The Prime Minister replied that the matter was being seriously considered. These are very important questions. Many of us hope that the War will be drawing to a close by a big victory in the course of this year, and, though I do not want to press my right hon. Friend too strongly if he says that he has not been in office long enough, I think it is time the matter was considered. These are matters which re- quire very careful consideration. There is only one other point that I would ask him to consider, and it is whether he should not ask this House for powers to review the naturalisation certificates issued within a few years of the War and during the War. I have seen in the Press that my right hon. Friend has been considering that point. I do not know whether that was merely intelligent anticipation on the part of the Press, but I would ask him whether he has considered it, and whether he can give us a statement which will relieve public anxiety on these questions. While our sons and our brothers are fighting, I am perfectly certain it is the desire of the country that the German trading element in our midst should not continue business here and take the business of English people who have been compelled by the decision of this House to go and fight. I will ask my right hon. Friend to deal with these five points that I have raised. First, the internment of those who remain uninterned; secondly, the clearing entirely of the prohibited areas; thirdly, the deportation of the existing interned Germans after the War; fourthly, the prohibition of their re-immigration into this country; and, fifthly, the possibility of asking this House for some means to deal with the naturalisation certificates. If he could give us his views on these points, I am quite sure that the House and the country would be very grateful.

7.0 P.M.


The hon. Member has put his points so clearly that we can all understand them. His first question was as to the interned aliens. The number of interned aliens to-day, as he probably knows, is something over 30,000, men only. The number of uninterned aliens is something over 20,000, and of those very nearly half are women, the remainder being men. The number of men of military age in the foreign sense is in all 7,500 in the whole country. Of these, over 500 are Ottoman subjects, who were not interned in those early days unless they were destitute. Of the remainder the majority are Austrian or Hungarian subjects, and of these over 3,000 are what we call friendly aliens, persons such as Czechs and Poles. Of the whole number fewer than 2,000 are Germans. That is a considerable number, but the rule was laid down by the late Government that no enemy alien should be exempt from internment unless he had been before a Committee of which two judges and several Members of this House are members, and they had advised his exemption. That rule has been strictly followed. The Committee had these cases before them, and only when they were satisfied that there was strong reason for making an exemption have they advised that exemption. Therefore, prima facie, I take it that persons exempted by the Advisory Committee are so exempted for a good reason; but, nevertheless, I have thought it my duty, as my predecessor did from time to time, to reconsider these cases, and I find on the whole, as I expected, that the reasons for exemption are very strong. In some cases I find men who are enemy aliens, but who have been forty or fifty years in this country, have married a British woman, have a number of children born in this country, some of them fighting for this country, and whose every interest naturally would be in this country. Where you find a case of this kind it would be folly to intern, because you are injuring somebody who is your friend. At the same time, there are cases where a decision has been come to which on further consideration, and generally on further information, requires to be revised, and I thought it my duty to reconsider the decisions of the Committee and in several cases on new facts I felt bound to reverse the decision and intern the alien.


In about how many?


It is difficult to say offhand. In nearly every case, possibly in every case, I have done that on new facts and not entirely on the old facts. Like my predecessor, I take the rule to be internment, and exemption to be an exception from the rule. With regard to the cases to which my hon. Friend referred, I cannot give him particulars of all. I think the dentist has been interned. As regards the dressmaker, I am informed that he is not a German but a Hungarian, who was exempted on the advice of the Advisory Committee some time ago.


Are not the Hungarians worse than the Austrians?


I am not going to lay down general rules. The exemption has been made not on general grounds, but on some grounds special to this case. With regard to the firm which he mentioned, I have not yet been able to ascer- tain all the facts, but I know that one of the persons he mentions as having been released from an internment camp and now serving the firm, was exempted from internment in 1915, on the advice of the Advisory Committee. I think it necessary, at the present moment, to take-these cases into consideration, and I am asking that the whole of these cases of exemption should be reconsidered at the present time, not because I doubt the decisions which were previously given, but because I think that the time has come when it is right to have further consideration of the facts of each case. At the same time I propose to take the opportunity of finding out how the interned persons are employed. Some of them, I do not doubt, are employed upon useful work, but others may not be so employed, and it seems to me right that when the Director of National Service is calling on every one to do useful work, these aliens, especially those who are exempted from internment, ought also to give an account of the work which they do, and I feel it my duty to consider whether the work which they are doing is such as to entitle them to continue exempted.


By whom will the cases be reviewed?


By the Home Office on information which I shall obtain.


Will the employment of those who are in-interned also be reviewed?


There is a Committee specially dealing with that who are taking steps to see as far as possible that interned aliens shall do useful work, in most cases in camp; in some cases, where the aliens are friendly, not in camp. The whole matter is being carefully gone into. In reference to the next point mentioned my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Knutsford Division and Sir Louis Dane made extremely careful inquiries into all these cases, for which I am very much indebted to them, and presented an extremely useful Report. The total number of aliens found in prohibited areas was 4,294 men, women and children.


How many are children?


I cannot say. The Report does not state that. In all, 2,942 were females, and a small proportion only were men of military age. There is no abso- lute prohibition against aliens residing in prohibited areas, and they can only reside there if the Chief Constable gives leave. Something was said about members of religious orders still living in a prohibited area. It is true that there is an order of monks, German by origin at all events, living in Devonshire. Some of them could be interned, and some of them could not be interned, but if disturbed would have to be repatriated. As to these men careful inquiry has been made from time to time, and provision has been made that they shall remain interned at the place where they are. They cannot leave the place except that I think four of them are allowed to go daily to a farm under proper charge. With regard to the sixty-six cases reserved by the Committee, I have not yet dealt with them. Then the hon. Gentleman referred to the deportation after the War of those who are now interned.


Or during the War?


During the War alien enemies of military age have not been deported. In nearly every case, where men are over military age, we deport. As to what will happen after the War, that is a matter which will have to be decided. There is a Committee sitting at the Home Office of which I am for the moment Chairman, to consider the question. The point is, I agree, one of great importance as to whether, after the War, we can allow persons who are now interned to remain in this country or whether we ought to make provision for their deportation. There is also the question of the exclusion of aliens deported now or alter the War. We cannot decide that question by itself. It involves a great many other questions which are also under consideration by this Committee. I cannot give an answer to-day about that because the Committee fire considering the matter and their decision has not yet been confirmed. As to the question of denaturalisation, the point is being considered by the same Committee, and the Committee have arrived at certain conclusions, but have not yet reported. It is one in which not only this country, but our Dominions also are concerned. Naturalisation is now an Imperial matter and not a matter for this country alone. It is a subject, therefore, which requires careful consideration. I need hardly say that under no circumstances would we propose to denaturalise a British subject except for good reason and after proper inquiry, but subject to these conditions, we shall propose that further provisions be made for denaturalisation. I think I have now answered all my hon. Friend's questions.


Will the subject of naturalisation be brought before the Imperial Conference?


I hope so.


The House has listened with the very greatest interest to the full explanation which my right hon. Friend has given of these important matters, which, as I know from experience, occupy very closely the mind of whoever fills the office of Home Secretary. It is particularly interesting for me to observe that the right hon. Gentleman, bringing to this problem a fresh mind, under the auspices of a new Government, has found that the policy adopted by the Home Office before his advent is one which he thinks proper to still continue. He has, in effect, in no particular of importance, found it necessary to depart from the course taken by his predecessor. It is to me a matter of great gratification to find that the course which I pursued is one which he is also disposed to favour. As to the aliens who are not interned, but whose cases frequently come up for review, it was my duty from time to time to issue orders for internment; but, as a rule, my experience, as the right hon. Gentleman's experience, was that where exemptions have been made, although it was very easy to raise prejudice outside—that is to say, by pointing to a considerable number of enemy aliens not interned—there were reasons, and good reasons in each case—that the person's antecedents were unobjectionable, that his sympathies were with us and our Allies, or that he was aged or infirm. They were cases in which it would have been cruelty to intern them, or else they were cases that have been closely reviewed by an impartial Committee and in which it had been found that the persons were fully identified with this country in spirit and that their internment was in no degree necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing specifically about alien restaurants which still remain open in London. I had contemplated taking some further action in that respect, and giving instructions for fresh regulations to be prepared to deal a little bit more drastically with this question of restaurants. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say whether anything is being done in that direction.


I have taken some steps, I have actually closed some restaurants, and interned the persons concerned. That has also taken place with regard to one or two clubs which were really the resort of enemy aliens, and I had to make Orders interning a number of persons who were members of one club. We are also proposing to ask for an Order which will give the police further powers for dealing with restaurants kept by aliens.


I am glad to know that steps have been taken. With respect to prohibited areas, the average person is under the impression that a prohibted area is some small section of the country, surrounding, for instance, a place like Harwich. As a matter of fact, the prohibited areas include nearly one-third of the whole of Great Britain, and therefore, if in out of the way districts, here and there, persons regarded as harmless, although enemy aliens by birth or origin, are still allowed to live there, do not let the House go away under the impression that they are living near some military centre or naval base; they are scattered throughout inland towns and villages which are included in this very large portion of our island, and are designated by the term "prohibited areas." I am very glad to see that the Commissioners revise the permits given by the chief constables in prohibited areas to reside there, and they reported that the work had been well done. They brought fresh mind to bear upon the subject, and that was the conclusion which they reported in the White Paper laid on the Table of the House. The right hon. Gentleman was not asked the question, but he has not said anything to-day with respect to the very difficult question of the friendly aliens of military age who are living in this country, and who are not rendering any military service in this War, nor are they rendering any other national service designated by the Government. That is a question which raises very delicate and difficult points. Not long ago it was stated in this House that it was a matter of correspondence and negotiation between this Government and the Government of Russia, the country to which belong some 20,000 men of this class. Some time ago steps were initiated in regard to this subject, and I am sure we shall be glad to know from the right hon. Gentleman, on a convenient opportunity, whether it is found practicable to take any steps in respect to this large body of adults who are friendly to this and to our Allied countries, and what steps are to be taken. I do not wish to press the right hon. Gentleman now, because I know it is a delicate and difficult subject. In the East-end of London, and some of our larger towns, there are masses of able-bodied men of military age belonging to nationalities allied to us in the War, and there is a very great deal of feeling in those localities that these men ought not to be wholly exempted from bearing their fair share of the burdens and sacrifices which the War entails.

The right hon. Gentleman told us something about the question of deportation of enemy aliens, now interned, after the War. The Committee which I established, and of which my right hon. Friend is Chairman, will, no doubt, propose a policy that has been carefully considered. Of course, it would be useless to deport aliens unless you have good reasons for doing so, because to deport an alien one day only to return the next would obviously be an absurdity, and, therefore, the question of deportation is closely associated with the whole matter of the regulation of alien immigration after the War. It is a question which is obviously surrounded by many difficulties, and by a number of varied considerations which will have to be taken into account. It cannot, therefore, be settled in any slapdash fashion, and any proposal will have to be most carefully thought out in every detail previous to its being laid before Parliament. In regard to the question of denaturalisation, my own view is that our law applying to it certainly needs modification. The powers possessed by the Secretary of State are not really adequate to remove from British citizenship individuals who are clearly showing that they are holding allegiance as a mere formality, and that their heart is not with the country whose citizenship they have, for financial reason, assumed. At the same time, I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that you have to safeguard the rights of citizenship of persons who have been naturalised, and with regard to whose loyalty there is no reason to entertain doubt. I am not sure that the best course will not be that denaturalisation should be effected by some judicial process designed for that particular purpose. After the right hon. Gentleman's explanation to-day I hope we shall hear nothing further of the foolish myth of the hidden hand and that hon. Members of this House will not lend the weight of their authority to the dissemination of a folly of that character. Many sections of the population are very ready to believe that some sinister and secret influence is at work because everything they desire to see done is not forthwith covered. There never has been any hidden hand, and the sooner those who propagate that idea which, strangely enough, is believed in by a large number of other individuals, limit their activities in that direction the better it will be for the population at large.