HC Deb 04 September 1939 vol 351 cc366-70
Mr. Arthur Greenwood

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he intends to take to deal with aliens in time of war?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)

The plans prepared are based on the principle that effective steps must be taken to render harmless all aliens who may be hostile to this country, but that there should be no unnecessary interference with other foreigners, of whom many are anxious to help this country. Certain security measures have already been taken. A number of aliens whose suspicious activities have been under observation are already under detention.

An Order-in-Council has been made amending the peace-time Aliens Order in a number of respects. The new Order requires all enemy aliens (that is, Germans and Austrians) who are over the age of 16 and do not intend to leave the country at once, to report to the police, and provides that they must obtain police permits for change of residence, for travelling, and for the possession of certain articles, including cameras and motor cars. The new Order also provides that non-enemy aliens over 16 who are not already registered with the police must register if they intend to remain in the United Kingdom. It also gives a power of control over the departure of aliens. There is no intention of hindering generally the departure of those who wish to leave, but this power is required in special cases for security purposes. A large proportion of the Germans and Austrians at present in this country are refugees, and there will, I am sure, be a general desire to avoid treating as enemies those who are friendly to the country which has offered them asylum. At the same time, care must be taken to sift out any persons who, though claiming to be refugees, may not, in fact, be friendly to this country.

To avoid risks, I propose that, to supplement the information already in my possession, there shall be an immediate review of all Germans and Austrians in this country, and I am asking a number of men with legal experience to assist me in this matter. These examiners will sit not only in London but in the provinces, and each of them will examine all cases in the district assigned to him with a view to considering which of these can properly be left at large and which should be interned or subjected to other restrictions. I am also arranging for a similar review, by a special tribunal, of all Czechs-Slovaks. Citizens of the former republic of Czecho-Slovakia will not be treated as enemy aliens—

Mr. Dalton

This is reparation for Munich.

Sir J. Anderson

—although there may be amongst them certain individuals who will be subjected to restrictions similar to those applicable to enemy aliens.

There will be an increasing demand for labour and services of all kinds, and I am anxious that use shall be made of the help of friendly aliens in any direction in which their assistance may be advantageous to this country. For this purpose, I am in consultation with the Minister of Labour as to the manner in which use can be made of the services of aliens who are not at present at liberty to take employment. I hope it may be possible to arrange that aliens who are friendly to this country may be found employment through the Employment Exchanges. By use of the exchanges, their services can be directed to appropriate channels, and any danger of their employment interfering with the interests of British subjects can be obviated.

As regards German and Austrian women in domestic employment who do not return home, there are many whose presence here need cause no anxiety, and any general measure depriving householders of their services would cause unnecessary difficulties. The policy will be, by a careful review of individual cases, to take appropriate precautions as regards any whose friendliness to this country may be in doubt.

British-born women who have lost British nationality by marriage to a foreigner are at present exempted from the requirement to register with the police. In cases of British-born women who are of German or Austrian nationality by marriage it will no longer be possible to maintain this general exemption. Such women must now report to the police, but in any exceptional case, such, for example, as that of a woman who has for some time been separated from her German husband, it will be open to the police to recommend that she be exempted from the requirements of the new Order.

Mr. Greenwood

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit of his reply, and may I put this question, quite simply? Am I to take it that the policy of His Majesty's Government is to draw a sharp distinction between those who are the victims of the system we are now fighting, and those who may be properly under suspicion?

Sir J. Anderson

That very accurately describes the spirit that we have endeavoured to introduce into this statement.

Colonel Wedgwood

Into which category—Czechs or Germans—do the stateless Jews come?

Sir J. Anderson

I must ask for notice of that question—or, at any rate, I will give an undertaking to look into it, but I would rather not reply generally straight away.

Sir Francis Fremantle

In the case of any suspected alien who has been arrested and interned and who maintains his innocence, what power is there for full consideration to be given to his case?

Sir J. Anderson

We propose to set up an advisory committee to hear any representations from internees and to advise the Secretary of State whether they can properly be released.

Mr. Dalton

Does that include representations by Members of this House who have personal knowledge of such people and can vouch for their reliability?

Sir J. Anderson

Every relevant consideration will be taken into account.

Miss Rathbone

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of drawing a distinction between Austrians and Germans and placing the Austrians in the same category as Czecho-Slovaks, seeing that their country was taken from them without their consent? Is he aware that there is a very strong feeling to that effect among the Austrian community, who are only too anxious to serve this country?

Sir J. Anderson

I can give the House an assurance that there will be every desire, while keeping considerations of security paramount, to show sympathy for the kind of case that the hon. Lady has in mind, but sweeping distinctions of the kind she suggested, automatically applied, would not be compatible with the public interest.

Miss Wilkinson

With regard to women who have married enemy aliens, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of these women are now returning of their own free will, even though they have not been separated from their husbands for a long time, and would it not be better not to have a stereotyped rule such as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, as many of these women to whom I have referred have no longer any sympathy with Germany?

Sir J. Anderson

That certainly will be considered. Many of these cases are cases for which we must have every sympathy. But the House will realise that the new obligation is merely to keep the authorities informed.

Sir John Haslam

Can my right hon. Friend give the position of Palestinian subjects or other subjects in Mandated Territories?

Sir J. Anderson

I am not sure how that question arises, but I will look into it.

Mr. Shinwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the position of those persons who have applied for naturalisation and whose applications are still under consideration? Will the consideration of these applications be expedited?

Sir J. Anderson

I do not know that I can promise that the consideration will be expedited. On the other hand, I do not contemplate that it will be necessary to put a stop altogether to the consideration of such applications.

Major Procter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hundreds of Czech subjects in this country and many thousands abroad are prepared to fight for this country, and has any decision been come to on the matter?

Mr. Cluse

Will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that where aliens are proved to be enemy aliens and have to be interned, they will be put to productive work instead of acting as parasites on the nation?

Sir J. Anderson

That will be considered.

Dr. Edith Summerskill

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman feels —and quite rightly—that a British woman married to a German or an Austrian may be influenced in some way, and, therefore, should register as an alien, does he not think—and I put this in all seriousness—that surely the same consideration should be applied in the case of a British man married to a German woman?

Sir J. Anderson

British subjects are not, as such, wholly exempted from all scrutiny from the standpoint of security.