HC Deb 28 June 1938 vol 337 cc1725-33
Captain Ramsay

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent the participation by aliens in assemblies for the purpose of propagating blasphemous or atheistic doctrines or in other activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of Great Britain, to amend the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and for other purposes connected therewith. May I say at the outset to hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is no intention of any sort whatever in my mind to affect or criticise the right of British citizens to think as they think fit as to whether religious principles shall be held or not? I wish to make that quite clear. If we lived in the days of those Victorian agnostic free-thought societies the details of which were circulated to us the other day, this Bill would certainly not be moved by me. My object in moving it is to make sure that these societies, with their respectable associations, shall not be used as a vehicle for Communistic or revolutionary propaganda. Since these organisations were founded, certain important events have taken place which must command the interest of all hon. Members on both sides of the House. The first was the launching by Moscow of the revolutionary campaign against religion. Then followed, in 1925, the formation of the International Proletarian Freethinkers, with the same directorate as the Militant Godless; the attack carried on for 11 years by these Proletarian Freethinkers on those respectable Victorian organisations; and their final merger two years ago at Prag. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House may say, in the first place, that this propaganda will still be of the free thought nature, but I have here Mr. Jaroslaysky's handbook on the subject, in which he says—and, as he is president of the Militant Godless, he speaks with supreme authority on the point— The revolutionary proletariat is not concerned with a merely paper war of the old style of Free-thought … it is an integral part of the revolutionary proletarian class struggle. If hon. Members on the other side of the House presume that at these congresses, when attended by members of this body, they will stick to atheism or religion, let me again quote from Mr. Jaroslaysky's handbook: Proletarian freethinking as cultivated by the League of the Godless is, on the contrary, essentially part and parcel of the militant workers' class struggle; basically political and revolutionary from the start. I think I have shown that, in a merger of societies containing men with these beliefs, we have a vehicle and a facade for aliens coming over to this country, nominally to discuss religion, but actually as agents of an organisation to promote revolution. We are indebted to our Socialist friends for a book called "The Communist Solar System." This so-called Freethinkers' Union should be included in that book as the latest addition to the United Front. Those respectable Victorian societies had no Sir Walter Citrine to stand up for them and warn them of the wrath to come. An 11-years' battle was kept up between the proletarian freethinkers and our bourgeois societies, and finally it and they came to an end at Prag, when they gave up their individuality and were merged in the new joint Union of Freethinkers. I will give an idea of the atmosphere that prevailed at Prag when these respectable British citizens arrived, as sheep for the slaughter. I quote from "International Press Correspondence," Volume 16, page 21, of 2nd May, 1936: The prolonged, frenzied applause which greeted the Soviet Delegation made it manifest that the freethinkers' organisation of the 12 countries that were represented at this congress recognised in the Soviet Union a country of Socialism, the chief support of their effort on behalf of freedom and on behalf of freedom among the people of the world. The next page shows how the recalcitrants were dealt with, and significantly concludes: It can, however, be confidently stated that all these efforts at disruption were fruitless. The next page described the speeches of the Soviet delegation, in which they hardly touch on the question of religion at all but deal with agricultural collectivism, the Stakhanov movement, downwards through the whole range of politics. The final quotation is as follows: Amalgamation is concluded. Amalgamation is not an end in itself but only a means to an end. I am glad from the cheers of hon. Members opposite to know that they concur in that statement: they may not like the conclusion, which was: In order to divest the free-thought movement of its sectarian character and bring it into service for the world struggle. With prototypes such as Lenin and Yaroslaysky we know what that world struggle means—Red revolution; and it is against that I wish to warn my friends on both sides of the House.

Now we come to the present congress, which is to take place in this country. I will quote from a Russian anti-religious paper and the quotation is vouched for by three reputable organisations, including the British Bible Union. I will give the actual words of Mr. Newman Watts of the last-named society: At the end of September last I received from the Agence d'Information de l'Orient of Paris a bulletin regarding the International Godless Congress in London. I have since seen the actual issue of the Antireligioznik of 27th July which was worded thus: 'The proposition concerning the organisation of the Godless Congress in London is accepted. (2) In case the English Government should forbid the organisation of the Congress, it will take place in Holland or Belgium. (3) The Soviet Russian Organisation of the Godless spends 150,000 roubles on the expenses of the Congress'. If some people should say that we are going to give them publicity by raising this matter, I will reply that we have only to look at the names of the people who are organising this congress to realise that they need no publicity; they can get all they want. What we are going to give them is just the publicity they do not want. And that is of two kinds: firstly, to warn the innocents inside these organisations of who is now running them; and, secondly, to warn organised Christianity of the real nature of this attack. If my hon. Friends are going to reply on the basis of free speech, may I suggest that they have to make a reply on the basis of free speech for aliens who are members or are likely to be members of this revolutionary organisation. One final extract from a man who has been a Protestant speaker in this country for 40 years. He writes that he has been speaking on the United Christian Front platform for 13 months and that his meetings have been broken up time and again and that this has been nearly always done by aliens. It is to prevent further aliens of just that type from coming into the country that I move this Motion.

Mr. Thorne

On a point of Order. During the whole time the hon. and gallant Member has been speaking he has not said a single word about the Bill he wishes to introduce.

Mr. Speaker

I noticed the same thing myself.

Captain Ramsay

I started by quoting the first two lines of my Motion and did not quote any more as I wanted to make the best use of my time, and it seemed to me that the Notice on the Order Paper made the matter sufficiently clear.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

It is out of no lack of appreciation of the sincerity of the hon. and gallant Member that I ask the House to refuse leave to bring in this Bill, because I am convinced that the Bill is the wrong way to attempt to deal with the evils that the hon. and gallant Member seeks to meet. The method of the Bill is one which history has shown to be ineffective, and it is also profoundly at variance with the great tradition of religious liberty, which is one of our most precious heritages.

Sir William Davison

The Bill deals not with religious liberty but with blasphemy.

Mr. Harvey

I will deal with that point later, if I may. I repeat that this is a wrong way to deal with the matter. Those of us who venture to approach this problem as trying to be Christians have no higher authority than the teaching in the Gospel of the Parable of the Tares. We know that in that Parable the disciples were taught that the attempt to root up the tares growing among the wheat was a mistaken one; tares and wheat were to be left to grow together.

Mr. Wise

Are you not forgetting that the tares were burnt?

Mr. Harvey

Not by men, but at the consummation of the age. Men were not to interfere with the growing of the tares. The wisdom of that, the insight of it, has been proved again and again in history. The course of history, I think, confirms the view that I have ventured to take. At the beginning of the Christian Church the earliest missionaries of Christianity, coming from Asia, coming from another country to Europe, were greeted in Thessalonica by violent opposition and an angry mob went to the magistrates and complained that: these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also. We get almost an echo of some of the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member. These early Christians were known by their opponents as Atheists; they were believed to be Atheists; they were regarded as the enemies of the human race.

If we look at the history of our own country we find that aliens came in, to quote the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, to further "activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of the country." St. Augustine of Canterbury was an alien. St. Paulinus of York, when he went to King Edwin, was an alien coming to upset the religious institutions of the country. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will not consider that St. Augustine and St. Paulinus were mistaken in their mission or that their work was not blessed. Their weapon was the weapon of truth. I maintain that truth needs no

other shield or weapon than itself. Whether it be political error or religious error, the right way to deal with it is by the weapons of argument and appeals to the highest. The only safeguard that truth needs is the light in which and by which it lives.

Some of the darkest pages in the history of this House have been pages where we have tried as a House of Commons to go contrary to that spirit. Go back 300 years and think of the time when a Puritan House of Commons condemned for blasphemy a Quaker whose tongue was bored with a red hot iron and whose forehead was branded. I think that the House then dishonoured itself more than its victim. Go back some 50 years, and think of how the House shut out from its membership one whom they regarded as an Atheist, some perhaps as a blasphemer, and when he lay dying the House expunged from its Minutes the record of what it had done. We do not want to go back to that sort of thing. We want to remember rather that we are the guardians of the spirit which John Milton expressed in his noblest prose work. We need to remember his words to-day: Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

That is a liberty which we ought to be proud and glad to share with men of every other nation.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent the participation by aliens in assemblies for the purpose of propagating blasphemous or atheistic doctrines or in other activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of Great Britain, to amend the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and for other purposes connected therewith.

The House divided: Ayes, 165; Noes, 134.

Division No. 251] NOES [4.13 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Cooks, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (So'h Univ's) Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Bull, B. B. Crooke, Sir J. Smedley
Apsley, Lord Burton, Col. H. W. Cross, R. H.
Asks, Sir R. W. Carver, Major W. H. Crossley, A. C.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Cassells, T. Crowder, J. F. E.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Cheater) Davidson, Viscountess
Barrie, Sir C. C. Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.) Davison, Sir W. H.
Baxter, A. Beverley Channon, H. Dawson, Sir P.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) De Chair, S. S.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Pertsm'h) Chorlton, A. E. L. De la Bère, R.
Bennett, Sir E. N. Christie, J. A. Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.
Blair, Sir R. Clarry, Sir Reginald Doland, G. F.
Bossom, A. C. Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Donner, P. W.
Boulton, W. W. Conant, Captain R. J. E. Dorman-Smith, Maior Sir R. H.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Drewe, C.
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Lipson, D. L. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Logan, D. G. Salmon, Sir I.
Edge, Sir W. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Samuel, M. R. A.
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Errington, E. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Scott, Lord William
Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.) McKie, J. H. Selley, H. R.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. Macnamara, Major J. R. J. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Gibson, R. (Greenock) Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Gledhill, G. Marsden, Commander A. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'If'st)
Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Grant-Ferris, R. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)
Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J. Moller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Hambro, A. V. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Hannah, I. C. Mills, Sir F. (Layton, E.) Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Harbord, A. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Haslam, Henry (Horneastle) Moreing, A. C. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.) Tasker, Sir R. I.
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Morris-Jones, Sir Henry Tate, Mavis C.
Hepworth, J. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Higgs, W. F. Munro, P. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Holdsworth, H. Nall, Sir J. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Horsbrugh, Florence Petherick, M. Thorneycroft, G. E. P.
Howitt, Dr. A. B. Ponsonby, Col. C. E. Titchfield, Marquess of
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Power, Sir J. C. Touche, G. C.
Hunter, T. Radford, E. A. Turton, R. H.
Hurd, Sir P. A. Ramsbotham, H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Keeling, E. H. Rankin, Sir R. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Rayner, Major R. H. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Reed, A. C. (Exeter) Waterhouse, Captain C.
Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury) Watt, Major G. S. Harvie
Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Wells, Sir Sydney
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Latham, Sir P. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Rowlands, G. Wise, A. R.
Leech, Sir J. W. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Leigh, Sir J. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Liddall, W. S. Russell, Sir Alexander Captain Ramsay and Mr.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Muff, G.
Adams, D. (Consett) Hardie, Agnes Naylor, T. E.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Harris, Sir P. A. Nioolson, Hon. H. G.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.) Hayday, A. Noel-Baker, P. J.
Ammon, C. G. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Palign, W.
Asshaton, R. Henderson, J. (Ardwiek) Parker, J.
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Parkinson, J. A.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Pearson, A.
Banfield, J. W. Hopkin, D. Poole, C. C.
Barnes, A. J. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Pritt, D. N.
Batey, J. John, W. Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Ridley, G
Bevan, A. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Riley, B.
Burke, W. A. Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Ritson, J.
Cartland, J. R. H. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Charleton, H. C. Kelly, W. T. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Chafer, D. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Rothschild, J. A. de
Cluse, W. S. Kirkwood, D. Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)
Collindridge, F. Lathan, G. Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Lawson, J. J. Seely, Sir H. M.
Cove, W. G. Leach, W. Sexton, T. M.
Culverwelf, C. T. Leonard, W. Short, A.
Daggar, G. Levy, T. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Lunn, W. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Lyons, A. M. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Day, H. Mebane, W. (Huddersfield) Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Debbie, W. McEntee, V. La T. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Duggan, H. J. McGhee, H. G. Sorensen, R. W.
Dunn, E. (Rather Valley) McGovern, J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Ede, J. C. Maclay, Hon. J. P. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) Maclean, N. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Thorne, W.
Gallagher, W. Maitland, A. Thurtle, E.
Gardner, B. W. Mander, G. la M. Tinker, J. J.
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Marklew, E. Tomlinson, G.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Marshall, F. Viant, S. P.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Mothers, G. Walker, J.
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Maxton, J. Watson, W. McL.
Groves, T. E. Montague, F. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. G
Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Welsh, J. C.
Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Westwood, J.
Whiteley, W. (Blaydon) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Wilkinson, Ellen Woods G. S. (Finsbury) Mr. Edmund Harvey and Mr.
Williams, D. (Swansea, E.) Young, Sir R. (Newton) Benson.
Williams, T. (Don Valley)

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Ramsay, Sir William Davison, and Colonel Sandeman Allen.