§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
It was intended that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) should have opened this Debate, and in his absence I will venture to do so. It has been arranged that we shall to-day discuss the problem of the treatment of aliens in this country; and while I am collecting my thoughts I wish to say that this problem must at once be put into proper perspective. We must recognise the difficulties of the Government in handling this very important question. It is no use dismissing it as though it were an easy one, because not only are we at war but there is a possibility of the invasion of this country, a possibility which has not passed away by any means. And before I come to criticise the methods of the Government in dealing with it I ought to add, from my very short experience when the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and myself were working together, that it must never be presumed that every alien who comes to this country discards has native patriotism and adopts ours. I can speak with a little authority when I say that. Nobody would accuse me for instance of being anything but a Welshman, and although I have lived in England 1526 for most of my life, and I suppose the English people have been more kindly disposed towards me than even my own people, I still feel the pull of my native land, which is true, I think, of every decent man and woman everywhere in the world.
But when I have said all that, I do really think that the House of Commons has a legitimate complaint against His Majesty's Government for the way in which they have dealt with the aliens' problem during the present war. In broad outline there are two types of aliens in this country. There is the alien who came here long before this war broke out, and indeed long before the last war. Some came here even before the South African War. A large number arrived later, when they fled from Nazi oppression. They not only fled from oppression in Germany, some fled from oppression in Italy as well. Those who came from Fascist Italy seem to have been forgotten as though they had never existed at all. Those two types have to be borne in mind in our discussion to-day. Those who came here long before Hitler was ever heard of and when Mussolini was almost in his cradle, who arrived here as children, have lived here for 50 or 55 years, know nothing at all about the land of their birth and could not conceivably have any sense of national feeling except the patriotism that grows by residence in this land. But the right hon. Gentleman and the War Office—and I am glad to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War here, because he must take part of the responsibility for what is being done—have treated this class in very much the same way as refugee aliens.
The two classes are, therefore, those who came here in the ordinary course of the movement of people over the face of the earth long before Hitler came on the scene, and the considerable number who fled to this country from Nazi and Fascist oppression. Let me say in passing that the latter class were received here with open arms because they were opposed to Nazi tyranny. They were, in fact, elevated in the public mind here because they had dared to stand up against the tyrant in Germany and in Austria. About 60,000 or 70,000 people of that type arrived here, received, as I said, with open arms by everyone, and, so far as I know, the Government put no obstacle in the way of their coming. 1527 Later on, unfortunately, our Government made no distinction between the two categories I have referred to. They bundled them all in together, suspect and innocent, Jew and Gentile, educated and ignorant, loyal and disloyal, on the assumption, I suppose, that because they were foreign born they must be enemies of our country.
As one who has travelled a little I am always anxious for the prestige of Great Britain abroad, especially in this connection. Whatever I say in criticism of our own institutions when at home I always stand for my country when among foreigners. Unfortunately, I sometimes have to stand up for our wicked capitalist Governments which I do not like, but that is only when I am abroad. When I am here, I say what I really think about them.
I am sure that the treatment meted out to our alien population in the last few months is not the result of cruel intentions but of panic and sheer stupidity. In passing, I might ask what else you could expect, when you see the Government Front Bench this morning. Whilst I am satisfied that there was no cruel intention, the stupid part of it was that some of our alien population were put in exactly the same position as though there had been intentional cruelty. Doctors, physicians, scientists and some of the most eminent scholars in Europe have been put into camps and under restrictions. Men who were once Socialist Members of Parliament in Germany, and who suffered physical and mental agony because they stood up against the growing tyranny there, have also been interned. I do not know whether there is anything significant behind this fact.
Let us put ourselves for a moment in the places of these people. Suppose that we had been Members of Parliament in the Reichstag and had, as Socialists, stood up and spoken out against this Hitler fellow. We should have been put into concentration camps there and treated with cruelty. That is what I should expect under such a régime myself; but if I came to Britain, which is called the land of the free, I should not expect then to be put into a concentration camp, because this country has the prestige of 1528 giving asylum from time to time to victims of oppression. That is the gravamen of the charge that we are makng today. It was not necessary that this internment policy should be carried out wholesale, and without discrimination. First of all, the Government set up tribunals which classified the refugees into categories A, B and C. The Government seemed to be satisfied that Class C need never suffer internment but, very nearly halfway through, when these categories were being dissected one of the Departments came along, assisted by a great deal of criticism in the Press. The Press howled from one end of the country to the other "Intern the lot."
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
No Member of Parliament sees every newspaper printed in this country. I say that the Press said, "Intern the lot."
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
Is it not right that the hon. Gentleman should justify a statement of that kind?
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Happily, no Welsh paper said so. When hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House say "all the newspapers," I would remind them that they do not read the Welsh newspapers. I can do so. Well, let me say that a number of newspapers demanded, "Intern the lot." There were also voices in this House of Commons that spoke very nearly on the same lines. The Government succumbed, and interned the lot. Unless I am mistaken, some of those newspapers then turned round, when these people were interned, and began to criticise the Government for having taken the very action they demanded. That is a lesson to us all not to follow the dictates of the newspapers. Let us now come nearer to the problem. Many people regard this, in the main, as a Jewish problem.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Oh, yes. A very large number of the people who were interned were Jewish. Somebody gave me, upon authority, a statement that one category of internees numbered about 1529 90 per cent. Jewish people. Let me give a case that has been brought to my notice in Lancashire, to show how absurd it was to intern some of these folk. There is a man 52 years of age, born in Lemberg. When he was born, Lemberg was Austrian. He left there when he was 18 months old. When Pilsudski came on the scene, Lemberg became Polish. Since the present war commenced, Russia has taken Lemberg. The scene has twice changed in Lemberg since he was born there. The man, who is an ordinary worker, could hardly afford £9 for naturalisation; rather a big item for an artisan. He has not the remotest idea about Lemberg and cannot remember anything about it. Unfortunately, he has been put into an internment camp. Then, some of those who have been interned actually have sons serving in His Majesty's Forces. Could anything be more ridiculous than that. If patriotism means anything, a man will surely feel more keenly for the cause for which his sons are fighting than for a country about which he can remember nothing. Therefore, we have a justifiable case in criticising the Government on its policy.
Let us picture what would have happened if war had not broken out. The 60,000 or 70,000 refugees would have landed here from Nazi oppression settled down among us and would have been absorbed as always. Some would have gone on to the United States of America or to some of the South American Republics. Because war is raging, these people are now like birds in a cage. I have talked to some of them, and I can assure the House that, in some cases, nothing but suicide seems to them to offer a way out. I am sure that the heart of the British people is more kindly disposed than to allow that, and I plead with the Home Secretary to be somewhat more liberal-minded. It is strange how man's mentality works. We remember the horror that sprang up in this country when Hitler put Jews, Socialists and Communists into concentration camps. We were horrified at that, but somehow or other we almost took it for granted when we did the same thing to the same people. Of course, distance lends enchantment to the view, and vice versa. I have heard it suggested that there are some in authority in this country with Fascist tendencies and that that is the 1530 reason why some of the Jews have been put away. I do not believe a word of that. If I had to speak for this Government at any time, I would say that the reason why this has been done is really the fear of invasion. When some of the Jewish people complain to me and when I speak outside this House I give that reason, but here I would like to tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I think about the situation. I would like to strike another personal note, if he does not mind. The right hon. Gentleman has been in India as Governor. I hope he is not giving us the Bengal touch in British administration.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, I would point out that my right hon. Friend left India with the complete confidence of all classes over which he administered, and which Administration he stamped with a broad, liberal, constructive mind.
§ Mr. Davies
Did I say anything contrary to that? I cannot understand why I should have annoyed the hon. Gentleman. If I may say so, I think I know the right hon. Gentleman almost better than he does, because we have worked together administratively. I am hoping that we shall not work together politically at any time. Now let me come to the White Paper issued in July. The right hon. Gentleman ought to tell us to-day what are the actual results of the publication of the White Paper. I know it is very easy to say, as some people do, that the White Paper and its results do not mean anything beyond the fact that the administration has released from internment those persons who never should have been put inside at all. That is the argument—that sick people were put inside who should never have gone, and that all the White Paper has done so far is to rectify those mistakes. I shall be glad if he can tell us to-day how many persons in fact have been released from internment camps since the issue of the White Paper. I have a feeling that in that Paper there is something a little too mundane and materialistic. I think there is a paragraph which says, "If these people on release can be of service to the national cause we will let them out." That smells a little too much of Hitlerism for me. These men should be let out of the internment camps because they are innocent and not because they are useful. That is the test. 1531 I am not one of those who think that a person ought to be allowed to go free during a war, if there is the slightest doubt about him. When, however, a man is interned and put under lock and key he ought to be charged with his offence. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head and I will leave the point there.
There is another complaint. Imagine all these people doing nothing. I do not know what the cost of maintenance is, but then we do not bother about the cost of anything now. But we have to remember that the families of these people who are interned will come on to public funds. This brings me to another very serious point. How on earth the Government conceived the idea of sending some of these people to Canada and Australia is beyond my comprehension. The agony of the families in this connection is indescribable. Imagine the plight of a mother of whom I know with two sons. She has not the remotest idea where they are, but she presumes that they have been sent to Australia. But then something else has happened. When many of these men were sent to Australia their wives were asked, "Are you prepared to follow them?" The wives said that they did not mind going to internment camps in Australia if they could join their husbands. Of course, the women sold their homes and bought the necessary clothes with the proceeds, and when they were ready to go with all their luggage, labels and everything written out, word came along to cancel the whole thing. I know of one woman who has had to turn to public relief because she has nothing left for her maintenance. There are in this House business men and employers of labour conducting affairs on a large scale, and I am sure that if any manager of any firm ran his private business on those lines he would be dismissed his post right away.
We are given to understand that in Canada and Australia there is no legal provision for dealing with refugees; that they must be treated as prisoners of war. Nobody knows the course of this war and what is going to happen to us all, but there is a genuine fear that if they are treated as prisoners of war, when the war is over they may be returned to their native lands and to the jaws of death. Perhaps the right hon. 1532 Gentleman would be good enough to clear up that point, because it is creating a great deal of fear.
With regard to the treatment of these persons in our own camps, let me give a case. A Jewish gentleman was interned. He has two sons, serving in His Majesty's Forces. The third son is called up. The man is in the camp hospital. He wants to see this boy before he joins the Army. The boy goes to see him and is refused admission. A daughter goes and is also refused admission. Then, strong representations are made by influential persons, and this boy who is to be called up is in the end allowed admission. He goes to see his father in bed, and all the time he is there a military officer sits at the bedside to hear the conversation. The people of this country do not want that sort of thing to happen. I will finish as I began. I am not without appreciating the difficulties of the Government in dealing with aliens. I have had a slight experience of the Home Office, and I was soon brought up against some very knotty problems, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, but, when all is said and done, the action of the Government towards some of these refugees is incomprehensible. The Jews have been in Egypt in bondage, they have suffered in German concentration camps; I do not want us above all people to play the Pharoah or the Hitler role upon them if we can help it.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Major Cazalet (Chippenham)
I hope that neither false sentiment nor false emotion will govern anything I say. Rather I am animated, if I may say so, by a sense of decency and of due regard to the fair name of both my country and the Government that I support to-day. A few weeks ago there was a debate here on this subject. I do not say as a consequence of that debate, but following it, the Home Secretary made a statement which appeared to me, I admit, to be pretty satisfactory. A few days later a White Paper was issued, and I regret to say that the more I and some of my friends studied that White Paper the less satisfactory it appeared to be. It does not matter whether there are 18 or 80 categories in a White Paper if those categories do not apply to the people who are interned. The real point is, how many people are being released, and are 1533 going to be released, under the particular categories. We have had some information about that to-day, in answer to a Question; and I hope the Home Secretary will give us further information. I should be the first to admit that since that last debate some progress has been made; but the question remains whether enough progress has been made, and whether the speed at which the existing machinery can work, even given the maximum of good will, is satisfactory.
One cannot help asking oneself who is responsible. It may be said that that has nothing to do with the matter; but what is Parliament for if it is not to ask these questions? No ordinary excuse, such as that there is a war on and that officials are overworked, is sufficient to explain what has happened. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will agree, but I think that Members of Parliament have been extremely reticent in exposing cases of hardship which have come to all of us, and which, I regret to say, are coming to me every day, even now. One of the most serious aspects of this affair is not so much what is happening at home, because we can, and will, put that right, but the effect that this has had on our reputation abroad. It has been interpreted as an anti-Jewish campaign. Although I know that nothing is further from the mind of the Government than that, there are facts which lead to that interpretation. The Jews are, for political reasons, not being allowed to organise themselves to fight in Palestine. That may be right or wrong; I am not arguing about it. Jews who are refugees in this country have been interned. Perhaps some of those same Jews whom I myself saw in Dachau camp some years ago, who have been fighting our battle for years, are interned here, and have not been allowed to fight for their adopted country. I know that the propaganda which has been put out is untrue: I repeat that there is nothing further from the mind of the Government than to do anything which would lend colour to this misguided or mischievous propaganda.
We all know that what has been done has not been done deliberately, with a desire to be cruel, in order to propitiate the sadistic instincts of officials. Exactly the opposite is the case. Officials have been more than sympathetic. Those at 1534 the War Office I have found always helpful; and the Home Office officials, like the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary, are only too anxious to help when we represent our case to them. Why is it that something has not happened? I am afraid it is because of sheer incompetence and mismanagement. I have no desire to ask for punishment, but I desire to see that similar things may not happen in the future. Also, what may start as incompetence and mismanagement may, if not corrected, very soon become cruelty. I admit that there has been exaggeration. I myself have taken very few cases to the Home Office, because it is so difficult to check the facts. Of course, there has been exaggeration, but I would say, in extenuation of some of the exaggeration of which perhaps hon. Members of this House have been guilty: how can you expect that there will not be exaggeration when it has taken over three weeks to get a letter from one party to another—[An HON. MEMBER: "Longer than that."]—a month in one case that I know of; when the "Oxford Book of English Verse" has been decreed an unsuitable book for a refugee; when names have been lost; when people have disappeared? It is obvious that when those things occur you are bound to get an atmosphere in which exaggeration of statements will take place. I know that the Minister is the first to admit that mistakes have been made, and I know that neither he nor his Department is responsible. But I do not think that that is quite enough. Horrible tragedies, unnecessary and undeserved, lie at the door of somebody; and I want the Minister, if he will, to say that he realises that these mistakes which he has admitted have in certain cases resulted in appalling and most regrettable tragedies. We have, unwittingly I know, added to the sum total of misery caused by this war, and by doing so we have not in any way added to the efficiency of our war effort.
So much for the past; what of the future? Personally—and here I believe that I represent the views of the majority of Members—I have confidence in the two committees which are concerned with these people. But there are one or two points which I do not think come within the terms of reference of either of these committees. I asked a Question to-day about the financial condition of the wives 1535 of internees. I have had one or two very distressing cases brought to me. In one case the husband has paid for over three years into the Unemployment Insurance Fund. You would expect that when he is unable to earn any money his wife would be able to receive something by right, not by charity, of what her husband has contributed to that scheme in the past. But apparently the fact that he is not eligible for a job—and the only reason he is not eligible is because he is interned by the Government—means that his wife is not allowed, under the Regulations, to draw any unemployment benenfit. I do not think that anybody, in any part of the House, will challenge those facts, or deny that this is a great injustice. I believe that there is a fund—the Prevention and Relief of Distress Fund—to which the wives and families of those internees can apply. I would ask the Minister please not to circulate to the Employment Exchanges, but to all the internment camps, this information, so that the refugees may inform their wives, many of whom are at their last gasp to-day, how to get relief quickly and legitimately.
The second question I ask is, Has every individual, who is of suitable age and physique, and against whom there is nothing from the point of view of security, been offered the chance of going into the Pioneer Corps? I believe that is absolutely essential. In asking the question, I must admit that I was perhaps guilty, because I did not realise the fact that there was quite a number of young refugees in this country enjoying positions and jobs, which would be denied to our own people because they were being called up, which they were holding merely because they were refugees. It is impossible that such a situation should continue, and I would be the first to admit it. Therefore I suggest, as a solution, that these young men should be offered the alternative of joining the Pioneer Corps, or, of course, being continued in internment. That offer should be made to men under the age of 35 or 40, and I would like all over a certain age, of suitable physique, to be offered the chance of going into an industrial corps from which the Minister of Labour could, if they were suitable, allocate them to various factories. I believe that if we 1536 got these two things it would certainly go a long way towards solving a very large number of hardships to-clay.
What about the position in Canada and Australia? It is clear that there are bound to be difficulties which require great tact, both on our side and on the side of the Dominions, to see that unnecessary hardship is not done. A number of refugees have gone out there in Category B. Those were the cases in the course of being examined by a new tribunal in this country, and many no doubt would have been placed in Category C. If they are in Category C, no doubt the Dominions will allow them that liberty and freedom that they would have enjoyed in this country, but how can the Dominions know whether they ought to be in Category B or C? If they are in Category B or A arrangements have to be made and accommodation provided for their internment, and it is in the interests of the Dominions, as it is in the interests of the refugees themselves, that this question should be decided as speedily as possible.
I know that the Under-Secretary has visited various of these camps, and I believe that conditions in the great majority of them have improved enormously, and that in future Lord Lytton's Committee, which is now responsible, will see that the conditions in these camps are now kept up to the maximum efficiency that is possible. But I have received disturbing letters about Prees Heath and Sutton Park Camps, saying that men of 65 and 67 are still living under canvas. I do not know whether that is true or not, but if the Under-Secretary has visited these camps and is satisfied, either that the conditions are good, or that they are to be speedily changed, I accept the position at once. But it is only right in a Debate of this kind, when we all receive these letters, that an answer should be given.
There must be individual cases which are not to-day, and will never be, covered by any particular category in any White Paper. I want no refugee to be refused the right of being released simply because he does not come under any particular category. I want there to be an individual committee, or whatever body it may be, who will examine the request of an individual on its merits. We all know, in the individual cases which 1537 have been brought to our notice, how hard it is to put them in any particular category. There is always some exceptional case. Perhaps the parents had been rather careless at the birth of one or more of their children and had not registered them in the right country, and for this the individual is now suffering. There are certain categories of artists whose technical work, and, indeed, whose whole life work may be ruined unless they are given certain opportunities. You cannot put them into any particular category, but they must be examined on their own individual merits. I am content to abide by the statement made by a Noble Duke in another place when he said that the Government will be able, as time goes on, to secure the release of all those whose release would not involve any danger to the country. That satisfies me, (1), if that is the policy of the Government, and (2) if there is a correct interpretation of "as time goes on." Personally, I believe that categories would be an entirely satisfactory way of dealing with this problem, and I accept it for the time being. Let us get the categories working, and get out as many people as possible, but, as time goes on, surely, there must be another criteria. Innocence, loyalty, honesty—these must be the deciding factors.
If a man is guilty, if there is the slightest suspicion that he has been guilty or is likely to become guilty, of in any way endangering the security and safety of the State, of course, he must be interned, but if his honesty, patriotism and loyalty are beyond doubt, then, I say, let such a man out. Give him his liberty to join with us in fighting for that freedom for which he might have been fighting for many years already. I ask the Minister to recognise that speed is of the essence of the whole problem. I know that he has problems and difficulties and confusion arising in the thousands of cases that are involved, and that there are tens of thousands of letters addressed to his Department, but I also know, as we all do, of the tragedies, sufferings and hardships which this control causes. I know also that the Government as a whole desire to do the right thing in this matter, and that they are just as appalled as any of us are at certain individual Cases that come to our notice. Frankly, I shall not feel happy, either as an Englishman or as a supporter of this 1538 Government, until this bespattered page of our history has been cleaned up and rewritten.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
As I am going to say in the course of my speech some things which will be unpalatable to some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I think I ought to say, though it is perhaps rather an egotistical beginning, that I have a very considerable knowledge and experience of this problem both in an official and a personal capacity. I have been for two years the British Government representative and chairman of the Evian Committee, without whose existence a large number of these refugees would never have got out of Germany at all. I have attended conferences in Paris, and at Washington under the chairmanship of the President of the United States of America, and I have, in a comparatively small house in London, nine refugees—seven Belgian and two German Jewish refugees—so that I hope I shall not be accused of approaching the subject with a natural bias of unfriendliness towards refugees. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with much that has been said by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who spoke from this bench—he regretted that he could not be here to listen to my speech—and always puts his case with lucidity and fairness, and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Major Cazalet). I think we have to try to get a clear line of demarcation in this country between the policy of internment and the method of carrying it out. In regard to the latter, I think we are all agreed that there have been serious mistakes; I think the Government, implicitly if not explicitly, have admitted that in answer to questions. But I would go further and say that these mistakes are due partly to unnecessary hurry, unnecessary stupidity, red tape, and, in some cases, to a certain amount of carelessness on the part of minor officials.
Now I want to come to the policy of internment, which I wish to defend with all the vigour I possess. In the whole of these Debates certain facts have never been mentioned at all. To listen to some speeches, one would suppose that the only people who have been interned in this country are friendly aliens. That is not so at all; dozens of British subjects have been interned. and many members of 1539 the Fascist party, which I am not going to defend in this House, have been in prison for eight weeks without going before a tribunal. This is not a question which applies only to Jews, and, although I do not want to enter into a controversy, I think it is only fair that, if we want to attack the policy of internment, we should deal with it generally. After all, the House has a great responsibility in this matter. It is no use attacking the Minister when Regulations, which practically abolished Habeas Corpus, were passed in one afternoon with hardly a protest—
§ Mr. Silverman
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the case of British subjects this House was careful to restore their rights under Habeas Corpus and that no British subject can be arrested except under Regulation 18B?
§ Earl Winterton
With all respect, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that if he knew what I know, he would know that the Regulations do not give a great measure of relief under the ordinary law. However, more will be heard about that story in the future. I am not attacking the Government's policy; I am in favour of it, and I say deliberately that the right hon. Gentleman is carrying out with great courage and efficiency the dictates and policy of the whole Government. It is easy enough to attack individual Members, but if you want to do the bold thing, attack the Government and the Prime Minister, not individual Ministers. It has been constantly asked in Debate why there should be wholesale internment of alien and anti-Nazi and friendly aliens? Now I will mention some of the unpalatable facts that I said I would mention. In the first place, again and again in the countries on the Continent which were invaded by Germany it was found that refugees aided Nazis in their march. The whole proof is there for anyone to see. Anyone who listened to the broadcasts of one of our Ministers in one of those countries has that proof.
Now I would like to mention another point—the treatment of internees in German camps. This has been of such a horrible character that those of us at the Home Office, when I was there, were almost robbed of our sleep. Only a half of the horrible facts were told in the White Paper which was published last autumn. It would have broken the law 1540 relating to obscenity if some of the details had been published. People were abominably treated. I did not get my knowledge as chairman of the Evian Committee, but I picked it up in that capacity, and I am convinced that cases did occur where Germans said to refugees, "We are going to give you and your people a much worse time, but we will give you the opportunity, if you like, of going to other countries providing you will help us in any way you can." No mesh, however small, in the police system of any country could possibly prevent that, and when people talk about the provable loyalty of people from Germany, such a thing is a contradiction in terms, and almost impossible to prove.
I will now tell the House something for which I take full responsibility. Perhaps I got the information not in a proper way. It has never been made public, and I propose to make it public now. The wholesale internment of aliens resulted largely from public pressure inside and outside this House. Whether it was right or wrong, it was done, but my postbag was full of letters from people who said, "We are sorry for these people who have come from Germany, but we are more concerned with the safety of our State." The statement I wish to make is that after these people were interned there was much less leakage of information from this country to the Continent than before they were interned. If I got up before any public meeting of constituents in this country and asked, "Which do you put first, the safety, honour and welfare of this realm, or the interests of foreigners, however badly treated?" there would be one shout in reply, "England." I want to point out that a great many of these unfortunate people came to this country largely as a result of the activities of the committee, of which I have the honour to be chairman, working in co-operation with the British and United States Governments. They came here in order to proceed overseas to America; I think there were something like 50,000 aliens in this category, and I am most anxious to see them go to America and other countries as soon as they can.
I would ask the Government to make it as easy as possible for them to get away and not have them go to docks under police guard. My hon. Friend below the Gangway, when he says these people had 1541 been proved friends of this country, is wrong. They came here in order to get into the United States, so, therefore, let us try to preserve a moderate attitude on this subject, and try to remember there are differences between many of us who feel strongly on this refugee question. I am in touch with certain prominent Jews in this country who have done a tremendous amount for their co-religionists in Germany.
They would not like their names mentioned, and it would be a gross breach of friendship to mention them. They have said to me again and again, "Preserve us from the extremist Jewish and Gentile friends of the refugees in the House of Commons and elsewhere." Let us do everything we can, by question and otherwise, to induce the Government to bring about better conditions in the camps where that is necessary, but let us remember that, as far as the general policy is concerned, the interests of this country must come first. It is easy enough to abuse the military authorities, but they are the people responsible for the safety of the country in time of invasion, and in a constituency like mine, had there been invasion, a single enemy alien found guilty of a crime against the State would have been in real danger of his life. I should have been asked, "Why do you ask these people to come here?" Let us, in the interest of the aliens themselves, remember that there are two sides to the question.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
I am very glad indeed that this Debate should be taking place because there are many misapprehensions which need to be cleared up. This matter of the treatment of aliens is not a question involving only the interest of some thousands or tens of thousands of individuals but a matter which touches the good name of this country. It is deplorable that suggestions imputing to the Government of the country, or authorities acting on their behalf, wanton and deliberate cruelty to inoffensive and helpless persons should be in circulation. I want to try and clear up some, at any rate, of the mis-understandings which are still prevalent. I am not going to deal with every aspect of the subject. There are some matters which, I think, would be better dealt with by the Under-Secretary. I want to 1542 separate the question into its distinct components. We must keep separate in our minds the merits or demerits of the internment policy and matters incidental to the carrying out of that policy, and again the question of the treatment of aliens who are actually interned. I am not here to deny for a moment that most regrettable and deplorable things have happened in the execution of the internment policy. They have nothing to do with the merits of the policy. They have been due partly to the inevitable haste with which the policy of internment, once decided upon, had to be carried out. They have been due in some cases to the mistakes of individuals and to stupidity and muddle. These matters all relate to the past. So far as we can remedy mistakes we shall remedy them. As far as we can improve conditions for the future—great improvements are now being made rapidly—we shall make those improvements.
To get back to the question of the internment policy itself, what is to be said for or against it? I made a statement on 4th September, at the outbreak of the war, on the subject of the treatment of aliens, particularly enemy aliens, and I enunciated what I think can fairly be described as a liberal policy. It was a policy which took full account—this was its basic feature—of the importance of distinguishing refugees from Nazi oppression from other categories of enemy aliens. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who made such a considerate and helpful speech, was wrong when he said we had failed to make that distinction. I explained in my statement how we were going to set up as rapidly as possible machinery for sorting out these people into various categories. The machinery was put into operation and the work completed within a comparatively short time and, as a result, the vast majority of the enemy aliens—those who were of enemy alien nationality as a matter of law and national status—were placed in category C, which meant that they were to be regarded as aliens friendly to this country, the vast majority of them being in fact refugees from Nazi oppression. My statement on 4th September was a statement of policy which gave me personally the greatest satisfaction. I thought it was in accordance with the best traditions of the country. It was with the very greatest 1543 reluctance and regret that I departed from the policy which I enunciated, a policy which at the time commanded the approval of Members in all parts of the House and the support of public opinion outside.
How did we come to depart from that policy? It was a matter of military necessity. The departure was not made all at once but by stages. I should like to indicate how the matter developed. The first significant step was taken on 11th May, after Norway had been overrun and when the attack had already been launched on Holland and Belgium. The military authorities came to me, late one evening, and represented that, in view of the imminent risk of invasion, it was in their view of the utmost importance that every male enemy alien between 16 and 70 should be removed forthwith from the coastal strip which in their view was the part of the country likely, if invasion took place, to be affected. I listened to the representations of the military authorities and came to the conclusion that it was quite impossible to reject the case put before me. I accepted their suggestion and carried it into force within 24 hours. I invited representatives of the Press to meet me, so that I might explain what had happened. I explained how deeply I regretted the necessity for the step. Hon. Members might like to look back at the Press of Monday, 13th May—I saw the representatives on the Saturday—and see the line that was taken then. The hon. Member for Westhoughton was challenged in various quarters when he said the Press with one voice called for the internment of all enemy aliens. I think perhaps he put it a bit high. But there was not a responsible newspaper on 13th May who did not applaud what had been done.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It was the internment of every enemy alien between 16 and 70 years of age at that time in a certain coastal strip. Three thousand were then interned. I do not want to be controversial; I want only to make the position as clear as I can, not in my interest or in the interest of the Home Office or the Government, but in the interest of the 1544 country, so that, as far as possible, we may get rid of misapprehension. Following the point I have been making, it is perhaps worth while to give an indication of the line which the Press took at that time. In the "Manchester Guardian," on 13th May, there was this:The refugees are welcome here because they look for Hitler's downfall and are only anxious to assist us, but it would be folly not to assume that Hitler will have tried hard to find some helpers for his parachutists should he send them. No half measures will do. We must make certain of disposing of it [that is, this new danger] quickly.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Is there any endorsement in the "Manchester Guardian" of the policy of interning all aliens?
§ Sir J. Anderson
That quotation had reference to the policy, which I have just described, of interning all aliens from a certain part of the country, which was the beginning of the policy. The "News Chronicle," referring to the internment of all men of German and Austrian nationality between the ages of 16 and 70 in South and Eastern Britain, the imposition of further restrictions, and so on, said:That may seem drastic when so many are known to be friendly to the Allied cause, but in the new circumstances that have arisen recently, it is a military necessity, and the only question is whether it applies to a large enough area.There was not a single newspaper that did not accept the policy, and some asked, "Why need the Home Secretary come here and apologise; why does he not do more?" That was the attitude at that time, and it was reflected in the House. My postbag was full of letters urging me to go further. I held back because I wanted to go only so far as real military necessity might dictate. But the enemy's march was rapid. As I have said, the first step was taken on 11th May. Further measures had to be taken as the military situation developed. On 4th June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in a statement in the House, said:We have found it necessary to take measures of increasing stringency, not only against enemy aliens and suspicious characters of other nationalities, but also against British subjects who may become a danger or a nuisance should the war be transported to the United Kingdom. I know there are a great many people"—1545 that is the relevant passage—affected by the orders which we have made who are the passionate enemies of Nazi Germany. I am very sorry for them, but we cannot, at the present time and under the present stress, draw all the distinctions which we should like to do. If parachute landings were attempted and fierce fighting attendant upon them followed, these unfortunate people would be far better out of the way, for their own sakes as well as for Ours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1940; col. 798, Vol. 361.]Then there was the collapse of France, profoundly altering the military problems which confront us in this country. On 21st June, after the fullest and most earnest consideration, the policy of general internment was decided upon. I have left out various intermediate stages, because they do not matter. I have seen it stated that this is a policy which cannot be defended. There is an influentially signed letter in the "Times" this morning which contains that statement. I am here to say that the policy can and must be defended, and 1 shall try to make clear to those hon. Gentlemen who, I know, most genuinely believe that it was a mistaken policy which should be reversed at once, why in my view the policy was necessary and why it must, for the time being, at any rate, in all essentials be maintained.
The House knows my general attitude in this matter. I am not going to say that I allowed my judgment to be overborne. I acted as I thought right in the circumstances. I would not have done otherwise. I would have resigned without hesitation if I had thought I was being pressed to do something which was not justified according to the best interests of this country. It is not altogether easy to present the complete case for the action that was taken, because there are considerations which it would not be in the public interest to set out fully in public Debate; but I think I can make sufficiently clear the kind of considerations we had to weigh. My Noble Friend perhaps made my task easier by what he said from his own experience, and I am grateful to him. We are thinking now only of the very large category of technical enemy aliens who have been classified as friendly—the "C" category—aliens who have a perfectly clean record and about whom nothing adverse is known. The question is why cannot they be left at liberty? Can we be sure that in the 60,000 "C" category aliens there is not a proportion—it may be a small 1546 proportion—who are enemy agents deliberately introduced by a very determined and resourceful enemy? I cannot answer that question in the affirmative. I cannot say we can be sure that there is not a proportion of people of that description among these friendly enemy aliens.
The next point is, is it not the case that a fair proportion of those friendly aliens still have friends and relations in Germany, still have material interests in Germany, and as a result might be subject to pressure which would lead them, perhaps at the hour of our greatest peril, to take action, on an impulse it may be, which afterwards they might greatly regret? Further, is it not the case that these enemy aliens include quite a large number who, perhaps because of the experience they have gone through, are fundamentally defeatist, who, if it appeared that the enemy was making progress in an attempt to land on our shores or by parachute, would lose heart, would be a source of weakness, and would tend to lower the morale of the people around them, and might be tempted in the last resort to try to make terms?
If it is impossible for the Home Secretary or any responsible authority to give a satisfactory answer to those questions, what is to be done? Are the military authorities to be told that, although for the reasons indicated they regard the presence of a large number of people of this category, who may contain these dangerous elements—it is really a matter of numbers and not of individuals—as a real source of danger and as adding materially to the responsibilities and anxieties which our military authorities would have to bear if an invasion of this country were attempted, the demand that these people should be put out of harms way for the time being should be rejected? I say, No. I say that as things developed there was no choice at that time. I think it can be fairly said with confidence that under the conditions which we have to contemplate of possible enemy invasion, the position of these people, if they were at large, might not only become one of greatest discomfort, but of peril. Believe me, that is not a consideration which can be lightly rejected. We have seen how quickly feeling works up, and we all of us know how tense the situation was throughout this country six weeks ago. I saw last 1547 week, when there were reports of parachute landings on a large scale, the beginning of the same kind of thing, until such reports were proved to be unfounded.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not think so. I have the opportunity of judging. In the areas affected the whole population turned out, and for a time there was extreme anxiety.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not myself take that view. I think these dangers can be exaggerated, but what I do know is that at a time like this very little will suffice to create in the minds of the people at large a sort of feeling that no unnecessary risk must be taken. This was evident to everyone six weeks ago. The worst thing that could possibly happen from the point of view of a commander of a military force, or from the point of view of a responsible police officer, is if at a time when he has to deal with hostile elements his attention is distracted in order to prevent civil disturbance and disorder behind his lines. That is the worst thing that can possibly happen. It is most important that we should run no risk of having our military forces hampered by the possibility of people who are normally law-abiding feeling impelled to take the law into their own hands at a time of great peril against people who might be thought, quite wrongly, to be a source of danger. So long as the danger of invasion is a reality—and we have been told that it still is—we must maintain, in substance, the policy of general internment. That does not mean that we ought not to do, and do speedily, all we can to alleviate the situation.
I will pass now to the White Paper, because I think there are misapprehensions about it. The White Paper was never intended to set out a complete policy of alleviation. It was published in accordance with pledges given in this House merely as a record of the instructions which had been given to the police in the last stage of carrying out a policy of 1548 general internment. When I told the House that the White Paper was to be published, I also gave details of the arrangements which were being made to ensure that as far as possible the categories of people who were to be regarded as eligible for relief might be extended. I explained that the Asquith Committee was being set up, with wide terms of reference, and I am certain that the composition of that Committee commands the confidence of the House and of the country. I shall give some particulars of the relaxations which have been recommended by the Committee and which have been accepted by the Government. That is, I hope, only the beginning. As the Committee goes on, I hope it will be able to make further recommendations. Within the limits of a policy of general internment, which for the time being must be maintained, I hope that substantial numbers of people will be released.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Major Cazalet) referred to the Pioneer Corps. I hope that an opportunity will be afforded to all young men prima facie eligible to join the Pioneer Corps. I have a poster with me which is being put up in the camps explaining to men between the ages of 19 and 50 what they should do if they desire to apply. We are going to make this a reality. There are limits, of course, to the rate at which men can be absorbed, but I hope it will be possible to take men in, subject to physical fitness and suitability, at quite a considerable rate. On the question of emigration, I agree that it is not desirable that approved emigrants should be escorted down to the docks as criminals. If that is being done, I will see that the arrangements are altered. We do right, however, in keeping these people in custody in normal cases until their boats are due to sail—and I think that is a wise measure. I will see that any circumstances thought to be humiliating or implying stigma—and there is no stigma attaching to these aliens in category C—I will see that these undesirable features are, if possible, removed.
§ Major Cazalet
A little while ago certain women who had permits to go to America or hoped to get them were lodged in Holloway Prison. Has that now ceased?
§ Sir J. Anderson
These women are now being collected in the Royal Patriotic School. We had no accommodation then 1549 except in Holloway. Let me now come to the White Paper and the modifications that are being made on the recommendations of the Asquith Committee. Again I would point out that they are only the first recommendations of the Committee. They fall into two main classes. In the fist place, they involve Amendments to the existing categories set out in the White Paper, and in the second place they add further categories. As regards the Amendments to existing categories, in the first place it has been decided to reduce the maximum age of internment from 70 to 65. Secondly, as regards category 2, which is the category of young persons who under the White Paper may be released if they were at the time of their internment resident with British families or in educational establishments, that category is being enlarged, keeping the age limit of 18, to make it possible to release young persons who at the time of their internment were resident not merely in British families or educational institutions, but those who at the time were resident with step-parents or guardians to whose care the Secretary of State is prepared to release them. On the point of age the present limiting age is 18, whereas the age of enlistment to the Pioneer Corps is 19.
We are discussing with the War Office whether it will be possible to bring the age of enlistment down to 18. I hope that it may be possible. If it does not prove possible we shall put the age for the purpose of category 2 up to 19. With regard to categories 4, 5, 6 and 7, they all relate to people who were before internment engaged in some form of specially useful or important work. As the White Paper stands these people are eligible for release only if they return to the employment in which they were previously, with the same employer. We are altering that so that the persons interned coming within these categories may be eligible for release to take comparable employment with a different employer. We shall take the opportunity at the same tine to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend below the Gangway about the person who is not an employé but who is either an employer or works single-handed. We make it clear that the category in the White Paper covers those persons, that is, employers and single-handed workers as well as employés.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am speaking now of persons who come within categories 4, 5, 6 and 7, that is to say, people who have a war service certificate, persons who occupy positions in industries engaged on work of national importance, and skilled workers in agriculture, commercial food growing and forestry. I come to category 8, which relates to scientists, research workers and persons of academic distinction for whom work of national importance in their special field is available. There is a difficulty here and we are to enlarge that category. The Asquith Committee have taken the view, and I agree, that the benefits of science and learning are often indirect rather than direct, and they have therefor decided that the category should be extended so that it shall no longer be confined to persons whose work is held to be a direct specific contribution to the war effort of the country. The test will be whether the person has the sort of qualifications described in the White Paper.
Category 14 in the White Paper is limited as it stands to internees who are employers of British labour and can show that unless they are released from internment their businesses will have to close down. It was felt that that category again was too restricted. The rigid limitation employed is being dropped and the category extended so as to make eligible for release internees who are employers of at least 12 British persons if the internees before internment took an active part in the business. That is a substantial relaxation. Finally, category 15 is being extended so as to include not only persons who have British-born or naturalised sons serving in His Majesty's Forces, but persons who have had such sons serving. This will cover cases where they may have lost their sons.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Will that include persons with sons in the Pioneer Corps, or must they be in the combatant forces?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, I think it will include them. It applies to persons who have British-born or naturalised sons serving in the British Navy, Army or Air Force. There is no limitation.
1551 I come to the recommendations involving additions of further categories. There is one matter which I know has exercised the minds of hon. Members a good deal. The policy of general internment, as has been pointed out more than once, inevitably resulted in the internment of some of the bitterest and most active enemies of the Nazi regime. Our difficulty there has been to invent some test to decide the genuineness of the alleged hostility or opposition to that regime, if possible some objective test. At my request the Asquith Committee have given careful consideration to that matter, and on the recommendation of the committee I have decided to adopt a new category in the following terms:Any person as to whom a tribunal appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose reports that enough is known of his history to show that by his writings or speeches, or political or official activities, he has consistently, over a period of years, taken a public and prominent part in opposition to the Nazi system and is actively friendly towards the Allied cause.I propose to appoint without delay a suitable tribunal for this purpose.
§ Miss Rathbone
Will it cover people who are active in trade unions, say, who are strongly social-democratic? It rather sounded as if it covered very high-up people and not working-class people who are strong anti-Fascist.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The wording has been carefully considered and I shall publish all this in a White Paper in the next few days. I am giving only a brief account of the proposals.
§ Sir J. Anderson
We will see how far that is necessary. If more than one is required, they will be appointed. I propose that a tribunal shall be appointed consisting of a chairman of legal experience who will be assisted by two or three people appointed because of their knowledge of the politics of Germany and Austria. I propose further that the tribunal 1552 shall be assisted as and when it is thought fit by calling upon reliable and representative refugees who were leaders of German political groups to give them advice and information. That is a very important recommendation and I think the House will generally welcome it.
In addition to these specific recommendations for a revision of existing categories and the addition of new categories, the Advisory Committee have made certain further recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Government. I will detail these as they cover some points that have been raised in Debate. The first time is that any internee placed in category B by the tribunals whose classification in that category was not made or confirmed as a result of the proceedings of one of the Regional Advisory Committees may apply for release if he comes within one of the categories of eligibility. The House probably knows that the Regional Advisory Committees had done only 25 per cent. of their cases when the policy of general internment overtook us all. It is desirable that some means should be found of giving those who had not an opportunity of having their cases reviewed the same advantages as may have been secured by the 25 per cent. The Committee have decided that if the particular alien in category B comes within an exemption category his case will at once be referred to a tribunal appointed for the purpose, which will decide in accordance with the principles followed by the Regional Advisory Committees whether his classification in category B has been rightly made, it being understood that the tribunal may classify the applicant as A or C or confirm the B category classification. If the tribunal classifies the applicant as C, then, subject to general security considerations, he will be eligible for release. The second recommendation is that at the earliest possible moment a complete revision should be undertaken of the Germans and Austrians placed in category B, that is to say, not merely a revision in the case of those who think they come within the new categories, but a complete revision to be carried out on general grounds of equity. The idea is that in so far as inclusion in category B implies a stigma, that stigma should be removed in all proper cases, even though there may be no immediate question of release.
§ Sir J. Anderson
They will presumably have to do that, as a matter of convenience. The third recommendation is that where a category C internee is released special consideration shall be given to the question of releasing his wife if she is also interned. I have given a summary of the recommendations of the Asquith Committee, as received up to date. All these recommendations are accepted. Full information will be published in the course of the next few days in the form of a White Paper.
§ Sir J. Anderson
That is a matter which we have to look at very carefully, but in principle it ought to. It is largely a question of machinery, and I ask to be forgiven if I do not give a full answer now.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Would the Home Secretary now give guidance to Members of Parliament regarding the putting forward of representations about individual internees on whose behalf we have received correspondence?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Perhaps I might humbly make a suggestion. If it appears from the letter of a correspondent that there is no chance of his application coming within one of the categories it would he of service, not only to the Department but to the internees who may be able to make out a case for release, if hon. Gentlemen would tell their correspondents at once what the position appears to be. If it appears that there is ground for release, according to the categories in the White Paper, let the application be sent in. There are instructions in the White Paper itself how the application should be addressed.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
May I suggest that the White Paper be phrased in very simple and straightforward language, so that we can send it to some of our regular correspondents?
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
Before the Home Secretary leaves the question of the expansion of the categories, we understand that sons serving in the Armed Forces have to be either British born or naturalised. Does the statement of the right hon. Gentleman mean that the presence of an ordinary refugee in the Pioneer Corps does not give his father any entitlement to release?
§ Major Cazalet
Not even if the son's life is lost in the service of the Crown? If he died in action, would that not be a matter for consideration?
§ Mr. W. Roberts
A British subject is liable in any case to conscription, but a German refugee is a volunteer. Would the right hon. Gentleman treat the father of a conscript more favourably than the father of a man who is a volunteer?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not want to be either hard or cynical, but a young man in internment who accepts an alternative offered to him of joining the Pioneer Corps is not in quite the same position as the ordinary volunteer.
§ Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that many refugees joined the Pioneer Corps long before they were interned?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am but giving examples. The recommendations of the Asquith Committee are accepted by the Government, and if there is any point in 1555 that connection I shall be glad to have it looked into. I should not be at all satisfied if I thought that what I have been able to announce to-day represents the end of the matter. Not by any means.
Now may I come to the case of Italians? I would remind the House that, on the outbreak of the war with Italy, the Government decided to order the internment of Italians resident in this country who were known to be members of the Italian Fascist party, other than invalids and the infirm, and of other persons, between the age limits of 16 and 70, who had less than 20 years' residence in this country. As a result of the policy, some 4,100 Italians were interned. Some of these were sent overseas, but, at present, we have in internment camps in this country some 3,000 Italian nationals. In a statement which I made—I think it was on 23rd July—I promised that the same arrangements as were made in the case of Germans and Austrians would extend, so far as applicable, to Italians. The practical difficulty is that whereas in the case of Germans and Austrians we have had a review of each individual case and a classification of those aliens into categories, there has been no classification at all of the Italians.
Accordingly, we propose to set up forthwith an Advisory Committee, of which I am glad to be able to tell the House Sir Percy Loraine has agreed to be chairman, to consider the cases of Italian refugees who fall within one or other of the categories of eligibility for release, and to advise the Home Secretary whether any Italian eligible for release can be regarded as so friendly towards this country and so sympathetic towards the Allied cause that he could safely be released without prejudice to the national interest. This Committee will consist, in addition to the chairman, of persons with special knowledge of Italian politics and life, and they will be at liberty to co-opt as assessors, if they think fit, other persons who have special information and knowledge of political conditions in Italy and will be able to give assistance to determine on which side lie the sympathies and loyalties of individual Italian internees.
I know that many other Members wish to speak, and I do not propose to pro- 1556 ceed to deal with matters affecting the conditions in internment camps, the welfare of the internees, or the mistakes that may have been made in the past. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will wind up the Debate, and will deal with matters of that kind. I hope that what I have said will satisfy hon. Members who feel strongly in this matter—not, I assure them, more strongly than I myself feel—and that it will convince hon. Members that the Government are endeavouring to do everything which is compatible with the paramount interests of national security to treat with consideration and leniency the unfortunate people, on whom, through no fault of their own, it has been necessary to impose restrictions and in some cases to impose unavoidable hardship.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say from what date the enlargement of the categories will take effect, and in particular when the increased number of old people available for liberation will be liberated?
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The right hon. Gentleman is an able advocate. He has admirably obscured the object and the subject of this Debate. He has described his desperate efforts to avoid being pushed over the brink into general internment, but he has made no attempt to explain why it is that, seeing that he was being pushed into that position, which he dislikes as much as any of us, he took no steps whatever to see that the policy was carried out in a humane manner.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I did say right at the beginning that once it was decided that that policy was a necessary policy it had to be carried out as speedily as was humanly possible.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
But the policy was adopted on 11th May, and we are now at 22nd August. More than three months have gone by, and in spite of the Debate here three weeks ago the situation is as bad as it was at the beginning. We still have the main faults. We still have the dumping together in the same camp of the bullying, jack-booted Nazi and the 1557 unfortunate Jew, whom the Nazi can bully. In the same camp we have the small minority of anti-Fascists actually being beaten up by the majority of Fascist Italians. This is after three and a half months. Surely in trying to humanise that policy—
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
The right hon. Gentleman has put the incident when anti-Fascists were beaten up, as he put it, as happening three and a half months after 11th May. Can he say the date of the incident?
§ Mr. Wedgwood
No, the information was given me by one of these people. An appeal was made to the officers in charge of the camp, and all the protection they got was, "We are going to have no politics here." My point is that if you put in prison people who, you agree, are innocent, people who have committed no crime, the first thing to do is to distinguish them from people who are put in prison because they are definitely hostile, dangerous and criminals. I should have thought that would have been the first step to take in order to show that you were being unwillingly compelled to a policy of general internment. After three and a half months these people are still classified as prisoners of war. That classification is extremely painful to the perfectly innocent internee. It also gives us a very bad name in America. Above all, it gives the wrong impression to the people in charge of the camps. We should not have had things going on in camps such as have happened recently, the general attitude of dictatorial authority on the part of all the subordinate officers in the camp—or we ought not to have had it—if they had been dealing with people who, they knew, were perfectly innocent.
There were inhuman restrictions upon the comforts of these perfectly innocent internees. They had been chased out of Germany. They had come out of concentration camps in Germany; they had fled from Vienna to Italy; they had been chased out of Italy without being able to find a resting place for themselves; they had been robbed of the last of their goods; they were driven to France, and finally driven out of France to this country; and at the end, when they get to the very country which is fighting for freedom, fighting for them, fighting for their cause, 1558 they are treated not as friends but as enemies, treated exactly on a par with German enemy aliens, not distinguished in any way either by title or in their treatment by the people in charge of the camps. They were deprived of the opportunity of writing to their families, deprived of the opportunity of receiving letters, deprived of the opportunity of reading the papers, deprived of the opportunity even of listening to our own broadcasts over the wireless. I know that some of these things have now been put right, but why have we had to wait for that when the right hon. Gentleman and his Department knew what was going on? They knew they were doing something which was extremely repugnant to decent English tastes, and yet even after the Debate three weeks ago all those ridiculous restrictions were continued. Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the letter from Harry Sacher in to-day's "Manchester Guardian"? I do not know how far it is true, but he would be likely to know, and he tells us that Australia volunteered to take 10,000 prisoners of war and internees and Canada volunteered to take 7,000, but that it was found, unfortunately, that there were not enough prisoners of war and internees, only 3,000 or 4,000 of them, and that they had to make up the rest of the 7,000 from other sources—because there were not enough in the camps. He says:The Home Office was communicated with and instructions were given to make up the balance from classes B and C. This was done. When the turn of Australia came there were no prisoners of war and no aliens of category A available, so the Home Office"—again the Home Office—gave instructions to send out persons in categories B and C. When the Australian Government found out what was happening they put a stop to it.All of us in this House who are interested in this question have wondered how it came about that, after we had had promise after promise from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that there was nobody on the "Arandora Star" who was not category A or a prisoner of war that—well I do not know about the "Arandora Star," but on some of these boats there were a lot of category C people. Quite a number of young men from the University of Cambridge were sent away without being allowed to communicate with their parents; they were not told where they were going and they 1559 are still lost to the world. Their parents do not know where they are, or under what conditions they are living. And when they get to Canada, even after three months have gone by, the Government have no idea where they are interned in Canada—or have only just found out. They are classified as category A, as prisoners of war. Excellent as much of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was, he still held out no hope that those who, quite wrongly, have been sent either to Canada or Australia will be released and allowed to come back to this country. Is that not correct?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am very anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should understand what I said. Certainly, as regards persons who clearly ought not to have been interned at all according to their categories, provision will be made for their release. Where it was indicated that there might be some difficulty, however, was with regard to the review of the B category aliens. Obviously, that will be difficult if the tribunal is in this country and the alien is away. I did say that in principle we accepted entirely the view that the same process should be applicable to the internees in Australia and Canada as to those in this country. With regard to those who are eligible for release according to the White Paper, there is no question but that they will be released.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
If I may say so, that is of no help whatever to those unfortunate parents, because none of their boys comes within the category. They are all over 18. The boys from Cambridge University are all over 18. Therefore, they will not be eligible for release. According to the Government's arrangements, it was to be only those in category A who were to be sent abroad. In addition to that, the C's were sent. I had hoped that the very fact that they had been transported against the intentions of the Home Office would be sufficient for them to be brought back. That is the only hope for most of them, and I hope that I shall hear something about that from the right hon. Gentleman or the Under-Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman seems to base the whole of his internment policy on the danger of invasion here. There is no danger of invasion in Canada comparable 1560 with the danger here. Therefore, why not set them free, at least in Canada? The whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument this afternoon falls to the ground when it is applied to a country like Canada, where there is no fear of invasion and where these people may just as well go to the Canadian universities and finish their education. You cannot have it both ways. If this general internment is necessary because of the fear of invasion, then the Government should at any rate allow all those B and C internees—not only the boys from Cambridge, but also all the others who have been sent to Australia——to regain their freedom. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is allowing a great many of the wives of the men who have gone to Australia to go out too. Of course, if those wives knew that their husbands would be free when they got to Australia, they would jump at the opportunity, but the painful position for them is this: They are asked, "Will you go out to Australia on the understanding that your husband remains interned in Australia?" This is rather a wider question than the right hon. Gentleman seems to consider. Perhaps we shall hear more of that later. The real question is whether the right hon. Gentleman is right in his policy of general internment. In that superb speech to which we listened on Tuesday, there occurred these words of the Prime Minister:The fact that the British Empire stands invincible, and that Nazidom is still being resisted, will kindle again the spark of hope in the breasts of hundreds of millions of downtrodden or despairing men and women throughout Europe, and far beyond its bounds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th Aug., 1940; col. 1165, Vol. 364.]They were very true words. We should recognise that we must take steps now to implement those words. The Jews, the first victims of Hitlerism, are now more than ever before despairing men and women even in the land of the free. I want to put before the House a few arguments against the point of view of the Government that it is necessary to intern these people and to deprive them of their chance of bearing their proper share in the fight for freedom. The real snag with which the right hon. Gentleman is confronted is the fact that he, the War Office and a number of right hon. Gentlemen opposite will persist in regarding this as a war of nations. If I may say 1561 so the right hon. Gentleman still lives in the nineteenth century. He still has the idea that this is one of the old-fashioned wars, and that if you were born a little German you must remain a little German all your life. This war is nothing of that sort. Every nation is divided into two different schools of thought, one school on our side and the other school on the Nazi side. It is out of date to talk of enemy aliens. It is out of date to talk of aliens at all. The only aliens are the people who believe in the Nazi form of religion. It is not the country in which they were born, but the school of thought to which they belong which divides mankind. Right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Front Bench have emphasised that point in broadcast after broadcast; I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has, but if he would, I am sure that he would sustain that idea.
This war is similar to the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Therefore, one does not expect danger to come from quite the same people as in the last war. If I was asked from where the danger will come if the Germans invade this country, I would not say from the German Jews. One cannot conceive it coming from them. The danger would come from the Fascist party, from people who were defeatists, and from people who have nothing to lose if Hitler comes here. Those are the natural dangers. Can anyone in this House imagine the right hon. Gentleman interning every person who had ever been suspected of agreeing with Mussolini or Hitler? Nearly everybody in this House—I do not include myself, of course—has been enamoured of Mussolini or Hitler at some time or other. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] I am glad to hear it. To say that everybody who has expressed views which we now regard with abhorrence should now be interned is inconceivable. About 30,000 enemy aliens have been interned. Suppose that in Kettering—which has a population of about 30,000—there was a man who was considered to be a potential murderer. Would the right hon. Gentleman intern the whole population of Kettering in order to ensure that that murderer would not be able to murder somebody? But even if he were mad enough to think that it was in the interests of justice that the whole of Kettering 1562 should be locked up in order to prevent somebody being murdered, he would not do so if it were perfectly understood that the murderer disliked the people of Kettering more than anybody else and would not live in Kettering or have anything to do with the wretched town. That is Hitler's attitude to the Jews. You do not really think that these people are dangerous.
You cannot think that they are in danger themselves, because that would be an insult to the people of this country. Our people will never get panicky enough to murder these refugees. Look at the way our people have stood up to the air raids. I remember in the last war a certain amount of looting of German shops in London after air raids, but nobody was injured; it was simply a matter of smashing up shops. I do not believe that anybody in this country would take revenge upon innocent people, in the way that revenge might be taken on them in France or in other countries. Look at the way that airmen who have dropped from German planes have been received; they have been asked into houses to have a cup of tea.
Nor is their any justification in popular demand. If 99 people out of 100 think that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) ought to be locked up, the Home Secretary will still snap his fingers at them. It is not a matter for the majority; it is a matter for justice.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
Right through our history the majorities have always been active. If we had followed the wishes of the majority we should never be where we are to-day. Civilised people, with the culture and the traditions which we enjoy in this country, where we naturally put justice before the will of the majority. Therefore, the argument in favour of universal internment based on the wish of the majority of the people of this country, as shown by the Press or by opinion in this House or by our letter-bags, is no justification to any responsible statesman, particularly a statesman occupying the position of Home Secretary.
The argument in favour of locking these people up must be based on their being dangerous; and that is what the Noble 1563 Lord, who generally represents the most extreme Conservative views in this House, explained. If they are dangerous, in the first place, how is it that, under one of the categories, those people who occupy key positions are to be released? The sort of arguments which are put forward in defence of this policy are quite illogical. If they are dangerous, keep them in; if they are not dangerous, let them out; and if you do not know whether they are dangerous or not, put them in key positions, where they are able to do any amount of damage! Consider those who are left out who may be a little more dangerous. There is Prince Stahremberg, an Austrian, an expert aeronautist, who uses his machine to run away whenever there is danger. You leave him in the key position of driving one of our aeroplanes, with our money. He apparently is not dangerous enough to intern. I should have said that there are a great many people in the Fascist movement, in high positions, who are far more dangerous than many of the people who are interned. I hope that the Government will on no account check its policy of interning those people who are really dangerous, but do not let them imagine that the Jews are in the least likely to be dangerous.
If you, Sir, were enlisting members of the Secret Service—which, of course, is in no way one of your functions—in order to obtain a clear insight of what was going on in Germany, would you send to that country people who talked but imperfectly the German language? Nearly all these aliens, although some of them have been here for about six years, speak such English that in many cases I cannot understand them. Nobody would ever mistake a refugee for anybody but an alien. Even if Hitler loved the Jews, he would not employ such incompetent spies and agents. Still less would he employ them in conjunction with the Nazis in this country, his real agents. Incompetent as spies, hostile by every instinct they have, knowing full well that whatever we lost by a German vistory they would lose far more, there is one body of people in this country who are essentially safe so far as hating Hitler is concerned, safe so far as protecting this country from invasion is concerned. The Noble Lord says that many of them are going to America, and 1564 that you cannot expect those to be loyal to this country. I do not expect any Jew to be loyal to this country; I expect them to be loyal to that faith in freedom for which we are fighting. Nobody can doubt that of all those who are on our side, the Jews are most interested in our victory and the least likely to act in any sort of way as agents for the enemy.
The Government's case is not to-day, I am glad to say, as it was in the House of Lords and as urged by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), bolstered up on whisperings that there have been cases where refugees have been proved to be agents of the enemy. The Noble Lord quoted uncertain cases in Holland and Belgium. There have certainly been such accusations and accusations in every country, but I would very much doubt whether there has been any single case in this country of proved enemy assistance from any Jew. Indeed I know that there has not been, but there have been whispers. I know that Dreyfus did not write the bordereau, but I know that the staff of the army thought he had, and said he had. If you are to take as evidence the sort of rumours that get talked about the Jews, you will never get anywhere at all.
As to the "isolated cases" which the Duke of Devonshire mentioned the other day, I would like to know from some responsible Member on the Front Bench opposite whether there is one single "isolated case," the particulars of which the right hon. Gentleman has gone into and upon which he has satisfied himself, that there is evidence against a Jewish refugee. I do not mean just that somebody in his office has told him, but I want to know whether he has gone into such a case himself. It is cruel, it is damnable, that these stories should be spread of a helpless people in the present situation without a tittle of evidence. The only evidence that could be obtained must be in the hands of the C.I.D. or the Securities Department of the Ministry, and it is not likely that they would spread the evidence.
We have the Duke of Devonshire mentioning it, and we have paragraphs in the "Times," and it is all simply to justify this policy. You have a policy of general internment, and you justify it by fabricating evidence. That is the really serious thing. I confess that I am 1565 making a very serious charge, and I will withdraw it if I can get from the Lord Privy Seal, whom I trust, the assurance that there is a single case which he believes he can prove to show that a Jewish refugee in this country has done anything to help the enemy. Let us clear up our minds and cease from persecuting this unfortunate and despised race. We should cease to treat them as though there was something wrong in being a Jew. This persecution has spread from Germany through the Continent, and can be found in Canada, and even in the United States of America, and is now raising its beastly head in this country because our minds are copying Hitler's mind. We are adopting his standards, and I would sooner see my country stop once for all this persecution of the Jews, even at a little risk, rather than that we should sink to the level of the Germans.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I do not quite follow part of the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood). I had rather understood that in all this business of dealing with enemy aliens the Home Office had refused to make any distinctions upon the grounds of religion or race, and I should have supposed that that refusal would have been approved by this House in general, and by the right hon. Gentleman in particular.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. It is the meanest thing on earth to go on calling these people nominally friendly aliens in order to conceal the fact that what you mean is that they are Jews.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I will not pursue the argument of the right hon. Gentleman further, because it is really impossible to go on arguing on terms of that sort. It surely is clear that the proper business of the administration of this country, when it is at war, is to treat those who are properly described by law as enemy aliens as justly as possible, and certainly not to distinguish between them on grounds of religion or of race, or of some combination of religion and race. I really do not understand why so many of the speeches that have been made, and particularly the last to which we have listened, have argued as if this were a matter of pro- 1566 Semitism or anti-Semitism, which it is not at all. I agree, however, with much that the right hon. Gentleman said. He divided the question into two parts, and I think rightly—the question of administration, and the question of the policy which has been administered. I go a long way in agreeing with him on the question of administration. I do not know where the blame should be placed for all the faults of administration that have taken place, and I do not think that it is possible now for us to pause and hold an adequate inquiry into the distribution of blame, but I think it is not excessive to say that there has hardly ever before in our history been such an accumulation of administrative blunders without some Secretary of State falling for it. If we look back to the time of the Crimea, when, after all, we were at war, and although, looking back now, we think our ancestors were not in much danger, they, no doubt, thought they were in some, the administrative blunders were not worse than they have been in some respects in this connection.
One part of the subject to which I wish to draw particular attention, because—I have not my notes and papers here—it is the part which I have best in my head, is in connection with the "Arandora Star." It is a little way from my main argument, but I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was a little over pessimistic when he referred to those 12 young men from Cambridge and said none of them would come in the releasable categories. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) seemed to think it was particularly wrong that persons of academic life should have to live in camps, but I would be the last to claim privilege for anybody on the ground that he was academic. I think that some of those 12 young men will be able to get exemption, even under the original alien categories, and certainly under the categories as they are now being extended. But the main point that I want to make about the "Arandora Star" is that, on the day after the sinking, we were told by the Minister of Shipping, who described himself as authorised by the Secretary of State for War to tell us that there were no Germans in the "Arandora Star" who were not known to be Nazi sympathisers. It seems to me to be a case of very gross incompetence that that announcement 1567 should have been made. Even if all the records had been thoroughly sifted, and it seemed certain that there were no B or C aliens in that ship, I think that an administrator of the most elementary cautiousness would have said, "We have done our best, and we hope and think that there were few or none." But to announce categorically that there were none seemed to be a quite unforgivable piece of administration, the more so, when one comes to inquire into some of the individual cases concerned.
I could give a fairly long list of some of the people I know very well sent overseas; many are intimate friends of mine, one or two for whom I have as much personal affection as I have for some of my own relatives. There was one case, that of a man of the utmost scientific distinction who was doing work, in connection with war wounds, which nobody else in the world can do. The War Office, I suppose, sent him off to Canada two or three days before the Home Office decided that he might be immediately released without a stain on his character. I do not say that to attack the Home Office—I think that to some extent it was the fault of the War Office—and I do not say it even to attack the War Office, but I do say that that man ought not to have been selected to be sent overseas. I can tell the House of the case of a young man whose father was murdered by the Nazis and whose mother and young sisters became naturalised in this country. He himself was not naturalised owing to a series of technical accidents. He had done his best to get into combatant service before the war started, and he was a person of great academic distinction, for whom every sort of guarantee could be found. Again, he was one of the people who was sent overseas. I could quote 12 or 15 cases from my own personal knowledge, as I have no doubt could many other Members in this House, but I do not want to do that. All I want to do is to indicate these cases in order to show that I have so far as my capacity for feeling goes as profound sympathy with the human misery caused as any hon. Gentleman here. But I also have profound detestation of the administrative incompetence which I think undoubtedly there has been. I can see no reasonable grounds for criticising general policy, and if I may 1568 say so as an insignificant speaker from the back benches, I think the Secretary of State this afternoon made an admirable speech and an extremely strong case. I think that he was unjustly treated when he was accused—because in this House it is an accusation—from the Front Bench opposite of being a good advocate. I think the goodness of his case was not so much because of his advocacy as in the plain statement that there was fundamental consideration of the problem.
If an archangel appeared before all the members of the War Cabinet at once and said, "There is one red-headed man in England who, unless care is taken, will do something to injure the State," I think it would be the duty of the War Cabinet to see that all red-headed men were interned. I should say it was their duty to do this at whatever cost to human misery, or at whatever risk to what is called British prestige. Incidentally, I do not know where hon. Gentlemen get their information from about foreign repercussions to British prestige. Until newspapers as any Member of this House, recently I used to read as many foreign and I used to find that reports of what foreigners were saying and thinking about us were not the same as some hon. Gentlemen alleged in this House. Nowadays, I do not find it easy to read foreign newspapers, but apparently it still is in some quarters of the House, and I should be grateful if hon. Members would tell me what are the repercussions, on these accidents, on opinion in foreign countries. I have not my notes in London at the moment of the communications I have had with refugees and refugee committees, but I think I am right in saying that there was a stage—I think it was in June—when a great many of these refugees and the English organisations which were interested in them hoped there would be general internment. Internment was not done only to please somebody in the War Office; I think it is quite fair to say that there was a large demand among British public opinion and that there was a considerable opinion among refugees and their friends that general internment would be the best policy in their own interests, as well as in the interests of the State.
As we are on the Motion for the Adjournment, I understand it will not be out of order if I briefly mention another 1569 subject. I do not suppose an answer can be given to it to-day, because no Minister here could be responsible for it, but I suppose that one of the points about a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment is that the Government may have in their minds some of the things which we have in our minds, during the interval before we meet again. I would like to know if it will be considered whether there ought not to be some sort of Debate or discussion on the announcement made the other day about the Western Atlantic and the Pacific. I do not know what the view of hon. Members is—I am not sure what my own view is exactly—but what I am perfectly clear about is this, that the appearance of taking it for granted that there is only one possible reaction to the Prime Minister's announcement is deceptive. I think that there is in fact a greater possible number of views than would appear from what the Prime Minister said and from the remarks on the subject made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). Therefore, I hope it will be considered whether there will be some further explanation and possibly some discussion on the matter in the autumn.
§ 3 5 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I do not want to discuss the general policy of internment, because I only want to mention subjects where I think the arguments are so strong that it is reasonably possible to ask the Government to do something about them, and I do not think it is possible to address arguments on the general policy with any hope that the Government will change their mind, because their case, though I think answerable, is strong. We have just heard of the amendments and additions that have been made to the categories, and it is difficult to comment on them in any detail. I welcome the fact that the promised new White Paper is once again to be regarded definitely as an interim and not a final settlement of the problem. I would suggest that some document incorporating both White Papers should be published and made available to Members and refugees, in the German language, and that some form on which applications can be made for release under all the different categories, so that the one form can be used whichever category they are applying under, should 1570 be prepared and drawn up in English with a German translation underneath it, and that this should be made available to refugees and to Members of the House to save us correspondence and to help the Ministry in its task. [Interruption.] I am grateful for the support of the Noble Lord and others on the point, and I hope that the amount of agreement will commend itself to the Government and that they will get that simple job put in hand. The release of key workers, of course, completely destroys the Noble Lord's argument. There is nothing left of the argument that these people are dangerous when released. However, I cannot complain, because I want as many as possible to be released.
§ Sir R. Acland
The Noble Lord was suggesting that there was no way of discovering that any single one of these men was really a sincerely anti-Nazi. It is only that argument which I think is destroyed by the suggestion that we can release key workers. I should like to ask who is going to apply for the release of a skilled worker when his late employer does not apply for it. I understood from an answer to-day that a man working on his own account can apply for his own release, but how can a man be released when his late employer does not apply? I think the only solution to the problem is to allow agents of the Ministry or the Ministry of Labour to go into the internment camps and find out which are the men who have particular kinds of skill and then, through the International Labour Branch, get in touch with employers who require this kind of skill, and then, when the two ends have been brought together, the Ministry of Labour or the International Labour Branch should itself sponsor the application.
Now I come to the most important point of all that has been presented to us by the Home Secretary, that he is going to release provable anti-Nazi workers. I hope that some of us are quite mistaken in thinking that the Home Secretary's words may mean that it is only the rather prominent anti-Nazi workers and writers who are to be released. I hope that the humble trade union secretaries and trade union members are also to be released. Indeed, I 1571 am sure that must be so, but if it is so, then the Home Secretary must realise that he will be confronted with a flood of applications for release on this ground, and his machinery must be capable of dealing with those applications. It seems to me to be inevitable that he must have more than one tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman said that he intends to put on the tribunal men who are acquainted with the political history of Europe. The only people who are competent to judge whether a man is an anti-Nazi worker of long standing are those who have themselves been passionately opposed to Nazism for a long time, that is to say, for a long time before 15th March of last year. I hope that the people who are put on the tribunals will be anti-Nazi in that sense. Might I also suggest that the proceedings before the tribunals could very usefully be held in the German language whenever possible? It is far harder for a guilty man to get away with something when he is speaking his own language, and it is far easier for an innocent man to seem guilty when he is speaking in a foreign tongue.
But I greatly fear that, in spite of all the categories, great numbers of innocent people will be kept in internment throughout the whole of the war because they cannot prove their innocence. There is one thing I want to ask. Recently, I asked the Prime Minister at Question Time whether he would establish a German university in this country. I admit that my Question was perhaps couched the wrong way. May I put the matter in this way? If we are to keep in internment camps these people, of whom we know that 99 per cent. are innocent, if we are not to release any of them because we do not know which is the 1 per cent., cannot we make sure that these camps shall take on the quality of centres of German culture throughout the war? I know that organisations like the Young Men's Christian Association and the Salvation Army will do their best to send some kind of charitable relief to the camps, but when the provable anti-Nazis have been released, cannot we give them the task of making these internment camps into real centres of German culture, and cannot that work rather properly be given to the British Council? True, the British Council exists to promote British 1572 culture, but surely, one of the qualities of British culture is that it appreciates all the other cultures of the world and desires them to flourish. After all, some of the most noble literature in the world has been written by people in exile.I will even gather you from the people and assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh.Those words were written in exile. In this greatest epoch in the world's history, some of these people sum up in their own persons the whole of the conflicts that are raging in the world now. Who can doubt that if they are given the right atmosphere, they too will produce great things, words that will reach out and thrill mankind as far into the future as we stand now from the words I have just quoted? If we prevent that from happening, we shall be destroying culture and robbing the future of something which we should be giving it. I ask that there should be funds provided, and that the British Council, or some other body, should be given the task of converting these camps, for those who must remain in them, into centres of German culture. When I put my Question to the Prime Minister, he replied, "Oh, no, we have other things to do." Does not the Prime Minister suppose that Hitler has something on his mind at the moment? Yet Hitler has time to establish an independent Breton university to allow Breton culture to flourish in Brittany at this time. And so we have the extraordinary position that the enemy of culture is able to pose as its friend. Cannot we do something to redress the balance with these Germans who are now in our midst?
Now I wish to come to my most serious point. The Home Secretary said in the course of his speech that it is deplorable that imputations of wanton and deliberate cruelties should be in circulation. But whose fault is that? That is what this House and every member of the public who knows anything about this matter want to know. Who is responsible for all the things that have happened? It is not now possible just to dismiss all these things with a shrug of the shoulders and to talk about mistakes and muddle. It is far too big for that. What I am about to say is perhaps not true of all camps, but it comes from internees and friends 1573 of internees, and, although one incident or another may be an exaggeration, the sum total of what one hears represents a picture which is too black to be dismissed with, "Oh, it was a mistake." It has gone on too long. There is, I think, a theoretical standard of feeding which these refugees are supposed to have. I have heard from too many refugees that they have only two pieces of bread with marmalade for breakfast, soup and potatoes for lunch, and a little bread and cheese for tea. That may be more than some of our own people are getting, but it is a great deal less than we give to German prisoners of war who 0come to us as our enemies. It is a scandal that we should not feed our friends as well as we feed our enemies. What would have happened if we had had a great military victory and captured 20,000 prisoners? They would have been fed up to the standard of prisoners of war within a week. You could have done it, but for your friends you go on half starving them in this way.
For instance, those refugees have not been given chairs, and they have been asked to sleep on the ground without tents, ground sheets or bedding—people of and 60 71. Tubercular cases have had to do that, and the disease against which they have been battling has again got a grip on them. Sick bays have been woefully overcrowded while our hospitals have been empty. Why was it impossible to put these people who were ill in our hospitals? Was it supposed that they might escape? Not one of these camps has been adequately equipped with medical supplies, and it goes without saying that diabetics and others who need special feeding have had no kind of special diet. Yet these are our friends. I do not wish to go into sordid details, but why has there been no toilet paper? Why cannot these little things be provided? There have been no wireless sets. Why is that? Why has it gone on for months and months and why have they not had newspapers? Why have these people been kept out of touch with things so that they have had to believe the rumours that towns were being destroyed where their friends and relatives were living?
Why is it that we submit these friends of ours to this agony, and why is it impossible to allow them to write no more than two letters a week? Why have there been delays in censorship? Is it not 1574 possible for this country in the case of our friends whom we have regrettably had to intern to employ enough people to get the letters through punctually? I heard to-day from somebody whose occupation causes a large number of letters from refugees to be sent to her that she has not received a letter dated later than 4th August. Is that a measure of the improvement? What does the Under-Secretary think is the usual time taken by a letter? You take away all the property of these people in some camps, while in others you do not. You have taken away their identity cards and their passports, and they have no idea where their papers are. The Government have no idea either, and these people are not given a receipt. You have taken away their razor blades, and you cannot tell us how many have committed suicide because, apparently, it would take too long to collect the statistics. We hear from one refugee or another; there are two cases near me, and there was one case of which I knew. This is a terrible indictment against the Government.
I am told that these camps, which the Home Office have taken over, are still being run under military regulations. There are members of the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, who fought in France, in internment camps in British uniforms. There are famous anti-Nazis in the camps, such as Sebastian Haffner, who wrote a psychological analysis of Germany and Nazidom. Why is it impossible for the Minister to exercise his authority and get that man released? Then there is the son of Professor Freud, whom this country was proud to invite and honour and make a member of the Royal Society. His son is put into one of these camps, and all the pressure of his friends in authority cannot get through the constipation which is in the machinery at the Ministry. I ask whether the Home Secretary cannot rise to a stature above this sordid machinery and just give an order to-day that this man shall be released to-morrow morning. It really would encourage some of us, who have been made frankly miserable by what has gone on in the name of this country if the Home Secretary would get Freud's son out of internment to-morrow morning. Thousands of C cases have been deported to Canada and Australia and nobody has any idea of what is to 1575 happen to them. I would like to know whether it is true that when it was found there were only a few prisoners of war the Government decided to send B and C cases? Who decided that C category aliens should be put on the ships? That is not a thing that happens by accident. It is not the responsibility of a camp commandant. Was it decided by the Home Secretary? If so, he must bear the responsibility. Was it decided by the War Office? If so, they must bear the responsibility. Was it decided by some civil servant acting without authority? If so, we ought to know.
Orders for release are so long delayed that many people have been deported to imprisonment for Heaven knows how many months in Canada and Australia when, had the order got through a little earlier, they would have been released. People with visas ready to go to the United States cannot be got out of these concentration camps in time to see the American authorities and to take advantage of those facilities. I raised one case at Question time to-day, and the Home Secretary assured me that he would get the man released in time. When we meet again in a fortnight I shall ask whether he has been released, and I assure the Under-Secretary that the man will not be released in time if the matter is left to the ordinary machinery. Either the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary will have to take special Ministerial action if that man is to be released in time. They have been messing around since 31st July, when the summons came from the American Consulate. At first the authorities said the man had gone to Canada, then that he was not there, then that they had lost him, then that they could do nothing about it because, although he was in camp, and the Consulate was summoning him to attend and get his visa, his file had been sent to Canada and nothing could be done with a man unless they had his file. The only other case I will mention is that of a man who was arrested on 26th June. His summons to go for his visa to go to America came through in the first days of July. In the meantime he has been deported, and his wife, on going to ask about him this morning, was told, "We cannot tell you where he is; there is no way in which you can get in touch with him; you will be informed if he is dead."
1576 Finally, we have the case of Sutton Coldfield. Does not that case utterly destroy all the assurances which Ministers give us or can give us on this matter? Who gave the order to send several hundred people, mainly over 50, to this marshy, heathery, "mosquito-y" swamp, where there was absolutely nothing for them except tents and ground sheets—no mattresses—and where they had to march for about 1½ miles, many carrying their belongings, because somebody did not know that buses had been sent to meet them at the station or because they had gone to the wrong station? Who was responsible for that? Did the Home Secretary order these people to go to Sutton Coldfield? If not, who did? I submit that these facts, and similar facts known to every Member interested, demand that the matter should be inquired into publicly. The House will not be doing its duty to itself unless it insists upon that.
These things do not happen because of the weather or because of some inevitable incident. In the first week or two or the first three or four weeks after a sudden change of policy—and we are not challenging that—one can plead emergency, muddle or difficulties, but one cannot go on pleading that. Somebody or other has either willed that those things should happen or has not willed that they should stop, and in fairness to the Home Secretary we must know whether it was he, because if so he must bear the responsibility. If it was not he, who was it? This is not recrimination, although one could quote the words of the Prime Minister in which he said that the use of recrimination about the past is to make sure that errors are not repeated in the future. After all, it is the same machine which has committed these mistakes which is responsible for the security of the people of this country, and if it is capable of doing such things then the House should demand to know by whom and why these things have been done.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Frankel (Mile End)
In view of the courtesy of the Under-Secretary in not rising at the same time as myself, in which case I should have had no opportunity of addressing the House, I shall confine my remarks to a very few minutes, without covering the field which I had 1577 originally intended to cover. Whatever the opinion of the House may be with regard to the policy of the Government in this matter, I do believe that at the time when general internment took place none of us was very much surprised that something of the sort happened, and I do not propose now to attack that general policy. I confine myself to the point that what we are concerned about is that, in spite of the fact that the Home Secretary has on more than one occasion, in answer to Questions in this House, admitted that mistakes were made, when hon. Members draw attention to those obvious mistakes weeks go by and nothing is none about them.
A lot has been said about the categories. I divide the so-called enemy aliens ill this country into two categories that have not been mentioned at all. One category contains those who have come to this country as a result of the seizure of power by Hitler in various other countries. I agree that you must be cautious and careful in your examination of people who have been in this country for only a very short period of time, and who have spent the best part of their lives in some other country. The other category I have in mind is of people who came here perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, and as children of two or three years of age. They have never known any other country, have married here and may have brought up families. They have been good and honest citizens all their lives, yet, in the general internment, they have all been bundled in with the rest.
I have in mind the case of a man who came to the police here 42 years ago, when he was one year old. He has since married and had five children. In 1917, he joined the British Army, from which he was invalided out with lung trouble. He has recently been interned, and for weeks it has been impossible to get him out. I want to be fair. I heard this morning that it is possible that he may be out in the next few days. I suggest that that man, even in the conditions which then existed, and granting the fears which the War Office may have had and the difficulties of the situation, ought not on any account to have been interned. I could cite many cases. No doubt the Under-Secretary of State will be aware that I have sent quite a number of letters to him about them. I should like to say, in response to what the Home Secretary 1578 said this afternoon, that hon. Members should use discretion about the cases which they take up. I do not automatically send cases to the Home Office when they are sent to me. I investigate them myself first, and those which I send are usually cases for which I can vouch from long knowledge. I get a courteous reply from the Under-Secretary, or the secretary to the Home Secretary, and then weeks go by during which I hear no more. I believe that has been the common experience of many hon. Members.
The burden of my remarks is not so much to attack the general policy of internment, which may or may not be justified, according to the views one holds. I cannot, speak, as did the Noble Lord just now, about what rich and influential Jews may say, but only for many ordinary working-class Jews in this country. They have not in the slightest degree any desire that a person who may be an enemy of the State should escape internment. I hear no complaints on that score. A good many of the intellectuals and professionals who came from Germany were able to take refuge here. Quite rightly; I am proud of what this country did in that connection. They may have a lot of friends, but the ordinary working-class Jews who have been interned have received very little support, and very little attention has been paid to their cases. I am talking of ordinary people who have lived here for 30 or 40 years. I hope, if hon. Members draw attention in the future to obvious mistakes that have been made, that we shall have a quicker method than now exists of getting them looked into.
§ 3.35 P.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I am sorry that we have not had more time for this Debate to-day. No doubt, many hon. Members could and would have made useful contributions to it, and to whose speeches I should have liked to have listened. The question of general policy was fully covered, I think, in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), who followed him, concerned himself with the question of the general policy of internment. Now with regard to that question, I want to be very 1579 brief, but I would say this: It is not a question of establishing that any of these refugees in category C are dangerous persons before it becomes necessary to intern them. I have said in this House, at a time when it was not a very popular thing to say, that there was no evidence that any of these refugees had been concerned in any serious act of a hostile character. I believe that that is still the case, but we have had definite cases, not of refugees committing hostile acts such as I have referred to, but of German agents, impersonating refugees, who have been so detected, and it is, therefore, not impossible that there are some people whom we honestly believe to be refugees in category C who may be enemy agents.
§ Mr. Peake
And some British subjects also. What we are not certain about in relation to a great number of these refugees is whether they are actively loyal to the British cause. After all, there is no very great reason why all of them should be. Many of them came here in transit to the United States of America and other overseas destinations. They did not come here for permanent residence. They came here, no doubt, because their primary object was to secure freedom from oppression, and not because they wished from this country to carry on a war against the regime in Germany. I think those points must be realised, and, of course, it is the fact that since the outbreak of the war many of these good people have availed themselves—and quite rightly availed themselves—of opportunities of going to the United States and elsewhere. But I feel that as regards a certain proportion of these class C refugees there is some doubt as to whether they are actively loyal to the British cause, and one does arrive at a time, when the risk of invasion is very close and when serious air raids may be apprehended, when it is necessary to have people of faint heart out of the way; and it seems to me that the Home Secretary made out a very good case this afternoon for the internment, at any rate on a temporary basis, of these people, in the changed military situation which we have had to face since Holland and Belgium were overrun and since France disappeared from the war.
1580 I do not wish to say any more on the question of general policy. I want to pass to the administration, to the control and management of the camps which the Home Office have taken over since 5th August last. I have visited camps in the Isle of Man and camps in this country. There are at present interned in this country between 19,000 and 20,000 persons. I have visited internment camps containing 17,000, so I have had some opportunity of forming an opinion as to the conditions which exist to-day.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, Sir. [Interruption.] I said "in this country." Others, in B and C categories, have gone overseas. The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) has trotted out from the stable complaints which undoubtedly were pertinent six or seven weeks ago. The thing which has caused more discontent and discouragement, both among the aliens in the camps and among their friends and relatives outside, has been the delay in postal communications—that, and the absence of newspapers during June and July. On 5th August the Home Office took over control. I made inquiries about the letters coming out of the internment camps. I found at that time close upon 100,000 letters, written by internees, which had been held up by the postal censorship in Liverpool. That was due to the fact that until May, the prisoners of war department of the postal censorship had a very small amount of correspondence to handle, but after Dunkirk there was a considerable number of British prisoners in German hands. All their correspondence, obviously, has to be censored for security reasons with extreme care, because letters passing from this country to Germany and from Germany to this country are a very probable source of communication with agents of the enemy. In addition, these large numbers of civilians were thrust into internment in the month of June, so the postal censorship was confronted with an enormous task at very short notice. We found these 100,000 letters from the camps awaiting 1581 censorship, having been held up for three or four weeks.
§ Mr. Silverman
What is the necessity for censoring letters written by people in this country to other people in this country?
§ Mr. McGovern
Can the Minister say whether two of these letters were addressed to me? A man whom I met in Austria, who was afterwards interned in Dachau, and who was got out from there by Sir Nevile Henderson at my request, sent two letters to me which I did not receive.
§ Mr. Peake
I cannot deal with individual letters in the quarter of an hour which is at my disposal. Those letters, which had been held up for some weeks, contained accounts of conditions in the camps which held good for the early part of July. Therefore, the letters appearing in the Press recently about conditions in the camps are now out of date. Members who have had an opportunity of investigating conditions in the last week or two will agree that those conditions have enormously improved, and that the letters which described conditions in the early part of July are now quite irrelevant. On 5th August we found two camps of a temporary character which were internment camps. One is Sutton Coldfield and the other is Prees Heath. Sutton Coldfield is extremely unsatisfactory, and we have arranged to vacate it to-morrow. Prees Heath will similarly be evacuated at as early a date as we can arrange for alternative accommodation. This problem is a serious one. We hope that we shall be able to find additional accommodation.
§ Mr. Peake
I really must continue my speech to deal with points that hon. Members have made. We hope to get by the 1582 end of September additional accommodation in the Isle of Man. We also hope that as a result of the policy which we are pursuing the internee population will steadily diminish. There are three channels which, I think, will rapidly achieve some diminution in the internee population. They are these. First of all, the releases under the categories laid down in the White Paper. The Home Secretary gave the figures so far announced, and with the lowering of the age to 65 there will obviously be a substantial number who will qualify for immediate release. In the second place, we hope that very substantial numbers will be recruited in the next few weeks for the Pioneer Corps. I have always thought myself that it is quite impossible to justify having young men of alien origin hanging about with nothing much to do, perhaps young artists, young pianists or young lawyers or something of that sort, when British boys are being taken away from their families to serve overseas. I hope that as a result of the recruitment which has now been opened for the Pioneer Corps in the camps very substantial numbers will secure their release from internment very quickly. There is a third channel by which the internee population will be rapidly diminished, and that is emigration overseas. As a result of the situation in the war it is now obviously impossible for emigrants to go from Germany to the United States. It follows from that, that as we are starting a new quota year for immigration into the United States, the chances of persons of German and Austrian origin in this country to-day of securing visas for the United States will be very greatly enhanced. Although I cannot give any exact figure, no doubt a very large number of these people will be able to go overseas within the next 12 months, and I hope that in that way we shall quickly get the internee population down to a very much lower figure.
I want to say a word about the transfer overseas which took place in the months of June and early July. The detailed arrangements in regard to these shipments, with the exception of the last one to Australia, for which the Home Office had a joint responsibility, were made by the War Office, but I want to persuade hon. Members, if I can, that there was a very substantial number of internees in the camps in Categories B 1583 and C who were willing, and indeed anxious, to go to the Dominions owing to the situation in which they found themselves. They were receiving no letters, and no newspapers, and they were hearing rumours that Holland and Belgium had been overrun, that France was conquered, that parachutists had landed in this country, and that Hitler might arrive here at any moment. It is not, in my view, very surprising that considerable numbers of these people, who thought that they would be the first victims of persecution if the Germans were to arrive here, were anxious to go overseas. As regards shipment to Australia, which is the only shipment for which the Home Office is directly responsible, there is perfectly conclusive evidence that 90 per cent. of those who went there were anxious to go there. The Australian authorities have informed us that a considerable number of those who are on their way are those whom they have been refusing to admit for many years past.
With regard to general welfare in the camps, it is a complete mistake to suppose that these people are in need of a lot of welfare workers to organise them into groups of this sort and that for study. These people are intelligent and clever; many of them are highly skilled and already have organised themselves to a very extraordinary degree. They do not want busybodies coming along to give them moral uplift. The morale of the people in these camps is a great deal higher than hon. Members have been led to believe, and, in fact, they bear their internment with a great deal more philosophy than do their friends outside. The hon. Member for Barnstaple asked about postal communications and cited an instance of a letter having just reached a friend of his after having been posted on 2nd or 3rd August. Well, like other hon. Members here, I have my friends in internment, and I have a letter here from one of them in the Isle of Man which is dated 13th August and which reached me On 17th August. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was yours addressed to the Home Office?"] Yes, mine was addressed to the Home Office, and if Members think they can accelerate their correspondence by having it addressed care of me at the Home Office, I shall be very pleased to have their letters sent there. However, 1584 as I was saying with regard to general welfare matters, these people are well provided with books and organisation of all kinds for recreation and study, but that is no existence by itself for civilised man. Employment is the most crying need, and the Isle of Man does offer exceptional opportunities for the employment of men outside the camps. There is work available for them in agriculture, in reclaiming land, in public works, cutting peat on the hillsides, and so forth which would not be available near or around the internment camps in this country. Schemes are on foot for providing employment of that character for internees.
I would like to say another word about Members of Parliament and their correspondence. Complaints have been made that we have been slow in answering letters, and one of the reasons for that is that we have received, ever since these people were interned, many letters on their behalf. At the present moment about 120,000 letters a week are going to internees, which gives some idea of how many friends these people have. All those friends seem to be writing either to me or to Members of Parliament. The fact is that these good people believe that influence can secure their release, as indeed does the hon. Member for Barnstaple when he spoke of the volume of pressure which he and his friends were bringing to bear on me in regard to one particular case. It is the highest tribute to the officials of the Home Office that so far that pressure has apparently been resisted. Personal pressure will not have the slightest effect in securing the more rapid release of any alien from internment. It is not at the present stage a matter of a testimonial. We have examined and classified them in category C or B, and no mere personal testimonial really carries the matter any further. The point at issue in regard to the release of an internee is, Does he or does he not fall within one of the categories laid down in the White Paper? The mere number of letters which we sometimes get in regard to one particular man in fact holds up in the Department executive action, not only in regard to that individual, but to other cases as well.
I am most anxious for the welfare of these people, I am most anxious to get on with an improvement in general policy and anxious to get many of them released as speedily as possible. I hope 1585 hon. Members will collaborate with me, when they get letters from friends of internees, by sending them copies of the White Paper and pointing out that they alone are the categories in which at present applications for release can be considered. Of course, every facility is given in the camps for applications to he made. There are dozens of men in every camp who can speak fluently both English and German. There are official interpreters as well, and the language difficulty is not one of any very great substance. The White Paper provides that applications for release may come ether from the internee himself or from his employer, or in certain cases it takes place automatically, that is to say, where a man is an invalid or infirm. It should not, therefore, be necessary for hundreds and thousands of letters to be opened every day in my Department, and to be answered, regarding individual cases. In fact, the release of those who fall within the categories would be greatly accelerated if correspondence could be somewhat diminished. Of course, I know there are difficulties where Members need the advice of a Minister, and I can assure them that I have never been slow to endeavour to help Members in matters of that kind.
1586 I have not had time to cover all the ground. It is little more than a fortnight since the Home Office took over this responsibility for the management and control of the camps. We took it over with a headquarters staff which had to be improvised in two or three weeks in order that there should be unified control in regard to alien policy. Much has already been done by the military authorities. We get the most remarkable tributes from internees themselves to the efforts made on their behalf by the staff of the camps concerned. I should like to read this one from a large internment camp in the Isle of Man:No effort has been spared by the command of the camp to obviate these difficulties. The British officers attached to the camp have strained the rules to the utmost in our favour and perhaps even overstepped them sometimes for the sake of humanity. There is not one amongst us who will not remember them in days to come with lasting gratitude.The Home Office has a tradition for humanity in handling the aliens question, and I can assure hon. Members that we shall try to be worthy of it.
It being Four of the Clock MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, until Thursday, 5th September, pursuant to the Resolutions of the House of 21st August.