HC Deb 22 March 1938 vol 333 cc990-6
44. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the Home Secretary the grounds on which a number of Austrian refugees arriving at Folkestone on 15th March were refused permission to land by the immigration authorities?

Sir S. Hoare

Of six persons with Austrian passports who arrived at Folkestone on 15th March, three were admitted at once, and a fourth has been allowed to enter this country after inquiries. Of the other two, one was a man who had been refused permission in November last to establish himself in this country, and the other, who did not claim to be a refugee, had no sufficient evidence that he would be in a position to maintain himself even for a short stay. As regards the general policy involved, I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the leave of the House, make a statement at the end of Questions.

52. Captain Cazalet

asked the Home Secretary whether he would be prepared to consider the possibility of offering to certain Austrian citizens who have resided in this country for some time the opportunity of becoming British citizens immediately, even if they had not fulfilled all the necessary domiciliary requirements normally required in such cases?

Sir S. Hoare

Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will await the statement that I propose to make at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions:

Sir S. Hoare

The question of the policy to be adopted as regards the admission of Austrians to this country has received the careful and sympathetic consideration of the Government. On the one hand, there is, I am sure, a general desire to maintain the traditional policy of this country of offering asylum to persons who for political, racial or religious reasons have had to leave their own country. On the other hand, there are obvious objections to any policy of indiscriminate admission. Such a policy would not only create difficulties from the police point of view but would have grave economic results in aggravating the unemployment problem, the housing problem and other social problems.

While, therefore, it is proposed to pursue the policy of offering asylum as far as is practicable, and steps are under consideration to enable this policy to be carried out effectively, it is essential to avoid creating an impression that the door is open to immigrants of all kinds. If such an impression were created would-be immigrants would present themselves at the ports in such large numbers that it would be impossible to admit them all, great difficulties would be experienced by the immigration officers in deciding who could properly be admitted, and unnecessary hardship would be inflicted on those who had made a fruitless journey across the Continent. I am anxious that admission shall not be refused to suitable applicants, including persons whose work in the world of science or the arts or business and industry may be advantageous to this country. It must, however, be remembered that even in the professions the danger of overcrowding cannot be overlooked, whilst in the sphere of business and industry the social and economic difficulties must be taken into account.

As regards Austrians who are already in this country, as I have already stated, any applications for naturalisation from those who have the qualifications prescribed by statute will be most sympathetically considered. I do not, however, think that the special circumstances created by the present situation afford any grounds for an alternation of the law. In any case, no alteration of the Nationality Law could be made without consultation with the Dominions. The provisions of the law relating to British Nationality operate not only in the United Kingdom, but in the Colonies and Dominions, and it is the settled policy that no substantial changes shall be made in that law except in agreement with the self-governing Dominions.

As regards Austrians who have been admitted here for limited periods, sympathetic consideration will be given to applications for extensions of their stay. Each case must, of course, be considered on its merits, but the general considerations governing the policy of admissions to this country will also be applicable to the question of extensions of stay.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, having regard to what the Home Secretary has just said, it is not quite obvious that the question of the admission of Austrian refugees to this country only forms part of the larger problem of refugees, and whether he will take steps to bring the matter before the League of Nations?

Mr. Bevan

Is the House to understand the Home Secretary to mean that, if there are professional persons who have means of their own or professional qualifications, they will have special facilities granted to them to land in this country, and will he see to it that, if there are poor people who have had to leave because of their political opinions, or loss of liberty or persecution in Austria or Germany, they will be allowed to land in this country and be given asylum?

Sir S. Hoare

The object of my statement was to show that we shall give as sympathetic consideration as we can to all individual cases. As to whether a particular individual may or may not practise his profession in this country that is largely a question for the professional organisations, but I hope that the House will see that I have said that I intend to give the most sympathetic consideration that I can to every case.

Captain Cazalet

Are we to understand that, in the case of all Austrians who are here now on temporary permits, their permits will be extended, or rather that they will have individual sympathetic treatment before their permits are withdrawn, so that they may discover whether it will be safe for them to return to Austria or not?

Sir S. Hoare

My hon. and gallant Friend may not have noted the last paragraph of my answer, which says: As regards Austrians who have been admitted here for limited periods, sympathetic consideration will be given to applications for extensions of their stay. Each case must. … be considered on its merits.

Mr. Paling

Is it not the fact that the money test does play a large part as to whether they are allowed to come in or not, and in future will poor people be allowed to come in on their merits without any regard to whether they have money or not?

Sir S. Hoare

My answer covers all cases. We are prepared to give sympathetic consideration to all individual cases within the limits of my answer.

Mr. Mander

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any special machinery is to be set up in connection with what he has said to help and guide those professional and other people as to their chances of coming in, or have they to write direct to the Home Office, as I think they would be very glad to know the course to pursue?

Sir S. Hoare

I think that it will be necessary to have some further organisation. I am informed, however, that discussions will be needed between the Foreign Office and other authorities, and pending these discussions I cannot add to the answer that I have given.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

Will the Government communicate with the Dominions as to the possible provision of special facilities in these cases?

Sir S. Hoare

I will take into account what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Since, in fact, greater hardship must fall, broadly speaking, upon the poor people, since there are multitudes of poor people who will suffer innocently, and since the problems which the Government have to face have to be faced by all other Governments in dealing with these problems, is it not: essential to create an effective machinery through the League of Nations, backed by adequate funds, for dealing with the refugee problem?

Sir S. Hoare

The hon. Member raises a much wider issue. I think that that is a question which ought to be addressed to the Foreign Secretary.

Miss Wilkinson

Would the right hon. Gentleman be willing, with regard to persons who are themselves without means, perhaps because their banking accounts have been sequestrated, apart from those who normally have no money, to accept the guarantees of British people who are prepared to offer them a home—that has been the difficulty with German refugees—and would his Department relax their rules on that matter?

Sir S. Hoare

That is a factor which should be taken into account, and I will look into it.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the Prime Minister agree to consider the larger question of the position of large numbers of refugees who will not be able to enter this country but who will have to be taken care of by somebody; and will he bring the matter before the machinery of the League of Nations?

The Prime Minister

It is quite obvious that I cannot be expected to deal with a question of that kind without notice.

Mr. Davidson

With regard to the re-application for permits for Austrians now resident in this country, will the Home Secretary take care to see that no change in their conditions in regard to their employers results because of the present international position.

Mr. Cocks

Has the Home Secretary ascertained from the Dominions whether they will be willing to accept any of these refugees fleeing from wholesale murder in Vienna?

45. Mr. Mander

asked the Prime Minister whether it is proposed that this country shall recognise the annexation of Austria by Germany; and whether Austrian State gold in the banks of this country will be retained here?

48. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government recognise or propose to recognise the absorption of Austria in the German Reich?

The Prime Minister

My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a statement on this subject on 16th March, to which I have nothing to add. As regards the second part of the question by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander), any gold or other property of Austrian institutions held in the banks of this country falls to be dealt with in accordance with any lawful instructions from its owners, and His Majesty's Government have no power to take any special steps in regard thereto.

Mr. Mander

Will the Government take care that it is not sent over to Germany, but rather retained as a guarantee for the various loans in which this country has taken part?

The Prime Minister

I have already said that we have no power.

Mr. Sorensen

Can we expect on Thursday some pronouncement on the subject of my question No. 48?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; I do not think I shall have anything to add.

61. Mr. Mander

asked the Prime Minister whether the pledges given to the British Government by the Austrian Government with regard to the treatment of Jews, Socialists, and Catholics, and the maintenance of the separate identity of the Austrian armies have been kept?

May I say that the word "Austrian" in the second line is, of course, a mistake for "German."

Mr. H. G. Williams

Have you recognised it?

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)

In answering the question, I have taken it to be "Austrian." The hon. Member will realise that the Austrian Government ceased to be an independent authority very shortly after the despatch of the instructions to His Majesty's Minister in Vienna.

Mr. Mander

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that every practicable step is being taken, in association with the German Government in this matter?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Davidson

With the usual success?