HC Deb 22 March 1938 vol 333 cc1003-12
Colonel Wedgwood

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Aliens Acts and Naturalisation Acts so as to give the Secretary of State for the Home Department powers with regard to the immigration into Great Britain and Northern Ireland of refugees from Austria for a period of six months from the date of the passing of this Act, and the granting of British nationality to such immigrants. The Bill that I am introducing is not materially affected by the answers which have been given this afternoon by the Home Secretary. The Bill is drafted to do two things, first, to amend the Aliens Acts so as to give to the right hon. Gentleman powers to relax restrictions for six months for the entry of refugees of the late Austrian Republic into this country and, secondly, to give British citizenship to such approved Austrian refugees as may be deprived of citizenship in the German Reich.

I must at the outset explain to the sufferers in Austria that the First Reading given to any Bill in this House means little or nothing. They must not have their hopes raised, only to be dashed. In the second place, I must explain to the House that the urgent and vital feature of the Bill is to give to the Home Secretary powers to allow destitute refugees into this country. While I hope to be able to convince the Government and the House of the propriety of some temporary amendment of the Naturalisation Act to meet this special case, that is not vital, I do hope we may get a unanimous vote for an asylum, a proposal which commits no one to any particular conditions in this revived city of refuge and sanctuary.

While we sit here in peace, men and women like ourselves in Austria are suffering beyond human conception. The professional is thrown out of work, and must starve. The working man is thrown out of his job, deprived of all relief, and may be sent to a concentration camp. The shopkeeper is robbed of his life's work, of his shop, and of his goods. Private cars are taken so that the victims may not even be able to escape; there is no redress, only outlawry for a large section of the population, that part of the population which incurs the hatred of the governing Nazi class. House visitations go on daily. The furniture is ripped up to discover money, the jewellery is taken off the fingers of the women; everything is taken. While Nazi lorries carry away the goods from the shops, unauthorised bands of S. S. men do not the same by every house, by every Jewish house at least. The conditions are made even worse by the public humiliation and degradation that is inflicted on perfectly innocent and loyal Austrians. In the "Daily Telegraph" I read the other day something which the correspondent had actually seen. A Jewish woman, well dressed, was taken out of an hotel, forced to go on all fours and scrub with her hands and tongue, "Heil Schuschnigg" off the pavement, while the S. S. troops looked on jeering and the crowd took no steps except to join in this brutality.

We cannot conceive of these things. They have been growing worse in Germany gradually, but they have come suddenly in Austria. It is as if we were dealing with a different race of beings. We meet these people at luncheon, suave, well dressed, well-mannered gentlemen, and it is a horrible revelation to discover that underneath the skin you have this bestial sadism delighting in cruelty for its own sake, apparently, affecting not one abnormal beast here and there, but affecting a whole people. There is not a man in this House or in this country who could do a thing like this, or look on at it without being physically sick. There is not a man who could bring himself to hit a passive, defenceless man or woman; and yet here this is going on, a return to the state of the world 400 years ago during the wars of the religion; and it is going on while I speak here.

The victims of this terror, which is really worse than the terror of the French Revolution because it has come more suddenly, are trying to escape. They are deprived of their passports at the frontier and of their money so that they cannot escape from starvation. They are trying to escape, before 150,000 people are starved to death. We must not keep them out of this country. For our honour's sake we dare not keep them out. We cannot be less generous than the French. It would be a crime against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no forgiveness. I am thanking of ex-Burgomaster Seidtz, whom I last met at lunch at the British Embassy in Austria, and of ex-Chancellor Renner, who has often had tea on the Terrace of this House. These men are not Jews; they are people who have been ruling Austria in the past, and are therefore regarded as enemies by the German Reich. I am thinking of the pacifist lady whom the Secretary of State for Scotland managed to smuggle in his car out of Hungary into Vienna. All these people are undergoing these horrors now. I am thinking of a little Cook's tourist guide. I asked him where I could see some of the buildings which were damaged in 1934, and he said that there was nothing to see but "You must take it there is plenty we will not forget." It is these people who are being persecuted to-day, innocent people, people for whom we created Austria under the Peace Treaty and who have been depending on us all along. These people are now like rats in a rat pit, and if any of the rats manage to jump high enough to get out of the pit we are throwing them back.

It is not a question of any man eminent in any walk of life. All these people are being stripped of everything they have. They cannot produce £50; and it goes to the heart of every man who opens his paper to-day to see these people being turned away. We cannot stand it; we must stop it. It is not only the Socialists, the very mild pink Socialists of Vienna, it is not only the pacifists, it is not only the most highly trained and highly educated and cultivated of the Jewish nations, but the Catholics as well. They are all in the same hopeless position at the present time. May I read to the House a few sentences from a Catholic Austrian soldier of good family, perhaps a descendant of one of those Irishmen who went out and joined the Emperor to fight the Turk in the seventeenth century? He says: Why has the whole world forsaken us? What has happened to the great Kingdom of Britain? Why will it not act? Will it look on while the whole world is thus conquered? I put my trust in Christ and Almighty God, who will not desert us. I cannot believe that He will for ever allow so much injustice, so much suffering, so much misery, so much despair. I cannot and will not believe it. Help us, you English. Show that there are still people in the world who will not live at peace with beasts of prey. We have lost the voice and the spirit of Cromwell, of Palmerston, of Gladstone. We have indeed "rolled up the map of Europe." But at least we may be spared the infamy of throwing back to the wolves those who have managed to escape. Give them this hope that, if they can escape, there is still generosity left in England.

As for naturalisation, do not be mean in your generosity. Above all, do not be guided by fear of the resentment of the wolves. We shall need friends and every man, soon enough. What does our Army record not show that we owe to the Huguenots, the Bosanquets and the Vandeleurs, and many others. The best fighting men in Spain are the German exiles. Let me quote from one of the many letters I have had from Austrians in this country. We would rather fight, and would die willingly for England rather than ever get a German passport and have to march with Hitler. Are not these the men we want here? We want that spirit and that manhood. Let hon. Members cast their minds back to the time when the black slave who touched English soil or set foot on a British ship was thenceforth and for ever free. If we cannot do for these Austrian exiles what our grandfathers did for the negro slaves we destroy the traditions of our race and sacrifice to unworthy fears the honour of England.

Major Sir George Davies

At the risk of being gravely misunderstood I feel that I must rise to oppose the Motion. There is not one of us whose heart does not re-echo many of the eloquent words which the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has spoken, in his description of the wretched position of many of these unhappy people whom we are called upon to consider for a few very brief moments to-day. But when it comes to a question of bringing legislation into this House I feel that we must for a time put out of our minds so much that is humanitarian, and in the best sense of the word sentimental, and think in terms of the legislation that we may be called upon to approve. I had hoped that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon would have removed the necessity of my having to get up and voice what I feel I must say in the interests of the broader considerations which arise in connection with a proposal to introduce a Measure such as this. It bristles with practical difficulties. Here we are practical legislators and must consider this question from that point of view. From the point of view of the humanitarian side, I for one feel satisfied that the statement of the Home Secretary relieves many of the anxieties which I have been myself entertaining.

I would remind hon. Members of this: The aliens restriction regulations which are in force at the present time are issued under Order-in-Council under the Acts, and, therefore, they give a very large amount of discretion and elasticity to the Home Office. Moreover, these Orders-in-Council can themselves be modified without necessarily coming to this House for special legislation. I want to bring before the House two considerations. In outlining his proposed Measure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has himself divided it into two parts. One is the question of admission into this country, and the other is the question of the naturalisation of those who are thus admitted. As I understand the suggested Bill it is to be limited to "Austrians," a difficult thing to define definitely and clearly, because, whether we like it or not, we know that notice has been given even to Geneva that Austria is no more and that it has been swallowed up by the larger body of the Reich. But when we are considering this legislation, Austria, or what was Austria, is not the only country even now concerned, and we know quite well that to the list of countries before long there may be others added. Are we justified, in legislating now, in making a distinction between one country and another when the conditions that appeal to the hearts of all of us may be the same in many other countries? I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting on to dangerous ground when the basis on which refugees or potential immigrants are to be allowed into this country is to prove or to claim that they are just Austrian. We have to consider a much wider ground than that. We cannot differentiate in that respect.

Then we come down to the very practical consideration that if that is to be the test, if those who are to come in are merely to be Austrians, fundamentally that cuts the ground from under those measures which exist now for the protection of our own people, measures which provide that when people come in, be they Austrians, be they Germans, or be they Poles, one of the tests is whether from the widest point of view they can be called desirable immigrants. It seems to me to be common sense to think that Austria, like any other country in the world, contains good, bad and indifferent. If we are to allow people here just because they claim or prove to be Austrians, regardless of these considerations, think of the difficulty after their landing, after their spreading amongst the population, of the police department, the safety department of this country, which has to see that our own people are protected against those who might quite easily slip in—drug traffickers, white slave traffickers, people with criminal records. [Interruption.] The test is at our own frontier. I maintain that that is a consideration of first importance in a matter of this sort.

Mr. Churchill

Is not that a matter for Committee?

Sir G. Davies

No, Sir, I think it is a matter that can be described in the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. If we give permission to-day even for the First Reading of this Measure we are surely going to encourage those hopes which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested should not be encouraged, because this legislation is not likely to reach the Statute Book, and that is another reason why I felt impelled to speak this afternoon. I do not want to take even a first step that will raise false hopes in the minds and hearts of those who would suffer the more when they found that their hopes were shattered.

The other consideration is the one of naturalisation. Naturalisation is a privilege, not a right, and the same test must surely apply to that as to other things. If we fly off the handle, moved by sentiment to break down barriers even for the limited time that is suggested, I consider that we are treading on very dangerous ground. We are going to give people blanket rights to a great privilege, regardless of whether they propose in future to throw in their lot with us, whether indeed they have any mastery of our language—all those tests which must quite properly be applied with due regard to the rights and interests and privileges of our own people, must be very carefully watched when we grant these rights and

privileges of naturalisation and citizenship. We come back to the difficulty alluded to by the Home Secretary, that agreement must be come to not only with our Colonial Empire, but with our self-governing Dominions. It seems to me infinitely wiser to go on the basis that has been forecast by the Home Secretary, that he will stretch the elasticity of the powers he at present has to the furthest extent consistent with his duties to the people and institutions of this country, bearing in mind the great claims that those whom we are considering now have on our sympathy and humanitarianism. It is for these reasons that I think it would be ill advised for the House to grant leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Aliens Acts and Naturalisation Acts so as to give the Secretary of State for the Home Department powers with regard to the immigration into Great Britain and Northern Ireland of refugees from Austria for a period of six months from the date of the passing of this Act, and the granting of British nationality to such immigrants.

The House divided: Ayes, 142; Noes, 210.

Division No. 147.] AYES. [4.13 p.m.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) McEntee, V. La T.
Adamson, W. M. Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) McGhee, H. G.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Green, W. H. (Deptford) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A, Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Grenfell, D. R. Mainwaring, W. H.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Mander, G. le M.
Banfield, J. W. Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Markham, S. F.
Barnes, A. J. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Marshall, F.
Barr, J. Groves, T. E. Mathers, G.
Batey, J. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Maxton, J.
Bellenger, F. J. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Messer, F.
Benson G. Hannah, I. C. Milner, Major J.
Bevan, A. Hardie, Agnes Montague, F.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Harris, Sir P. A. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Buchanan, G. Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Burke, W. A. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Naylor, T. E.
Butcher, H. W. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Noel-Baker, P. J.
Cape, T. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Oliver, G. H.
Charleton, H. C. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Owen, Major G.
Chater, D. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Paling, W.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Hollins, A. Parker, J.
Cluse, W. S. Hopkin, D. Parkinson, J. A.
Cocks, F. S. Jagger, J. Price, M. P.
Cove, W. G. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Quibell, D. J. K.
Daggar, G. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) John, W. Ritson, J.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Day, H. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Rothschild, J. A. de
Dobbie, W. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Seely, Sir H. M.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Kelly, W. T. Sexton, T. M.
Ede, J. C. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Shinwell, E.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Kirby, B. V. Silverman, S. S.
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Kirkwood, D. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) Lathan, G. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Lawson, J. J. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Foot, D. M. Leonard, W. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Gallacher, W. Leslie, J. R. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Gardner, B. W. Logan, D. G. Sorensen, R. W.
Garro Jones, G. M. Lunn, W. Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Stephen, C. Viant, S. P. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng) Walkden, A. G. Withers, Sir J. J.
Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.) Walker, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Watkins, F. C.
Thorne, W. Watson, W. McL. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Thurtle, E. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon) Colonel Wedgwood and
Tinker, J. J. Wilkinson, Ellen Mr. Wedgwood Benn.
Tomlinson, G. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Erskine-Hill, A. G. Patrick, C. M.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Everard, W. L. Peake, O.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Fleming, E. L. Peters, Dr. S. J.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Fox, Sir G. W. G. Petherick, M.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Pilkington, R.
Apsley, Lord Grant-Ferris, R. Procter, Major H. A.
Assheton, R. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Radford, E. A.
Astor, viscountess Plymouth, Sutton) Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Gridley, Sir A. B. Ramsbotham, H.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Grigg, Sir E. W. M. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Grimston, R. V. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Balniel, Lord Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Hambro, A. V. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h.) Harbord, A. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Beechman, N. A. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ropner, Colonel L.
Bennett, Sir E. N. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Birchall, Sir J. D. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Rowlands, G.
Blair, Sir R. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Boothby, R. J. G. Hepworth, J. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Bossom, A. C. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Russell, Sir Alexander
Boulton, W. W. Higgs, W. F. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Salmon, Sir I.
Brocklebank, Sir Edmund Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Salt, E. W.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Horsbrugh, Florence Samuel, M. R. A.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Howitt, Dr. A. B. Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Bull, B. B. Hunter, T. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Bullock, Capt. M. Hurd, Sir P. A. Sandys, E. D.
Burton, Col. H. W. Jarvis, Sir J. J. Savery, Sir Servington
Campbell, Sir E. T. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Scott, Lord William
Castlereagh, Viscount Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Channon, H. Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F. Smithers, Sir W.
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Christie, J. A. Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Leech, Sir J. W. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Clarry, Sir Reginald Leigh, Sir J. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Clydesdale, Marquess of Leighton, Major B. E. P. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Lewis, O. Sutcliffe, H.
Colfox, Major W. P. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Lloyd, G. W. Tate, Mavis C.
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Loftus, P. C. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.) Lyons, A. M. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Titchfield, Marquess of
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Touche, G. C.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. M'Connell, Sir J. Train, Sir J.
Cox, H. B. Trevor MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross) Tree, A. R. L. F.
Craven-Ellis, W. McKie, J. H. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Maclay, Hon. J. P. Turton, R. H.
Cross, R. H. Magnay, T. Wakefield, W. W.
Crowder, J. F. E. Maitland, A. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Culverwell, C. T. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Davison, Sir W. H. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Warrender, Sir V.
Dawson, Sir P. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Waterhouse, Captain C.
De la Bère, R. Marsden, Commander A. Watt, Major G. S. Harvie
Denville, Alfred Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Wells, S. R.
Donner, P. W. Mayhew Lt.-Col. J. Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Dower, Major A. V. G. Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Duggan, H. J. Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick) Womersley, Sir W. J.
Duncan, J. A. L. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Wood, Hon. C. I. C.
Dunglass, Lord Moreing, A. C. Wragg, H.
Eastwood, J. F. Munro, P. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Eckersley, P. T. Nall, Sir J. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Nicholson, G. (Farnham)
Ellis, Sir G. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Elmley, Viscount O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Major Sir George Davies and
Emery, J. F. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Mr. Wise.
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Palmer, G. E. H.

Resolutions agreed to.