HC Deb 23 July 1940 vol 363 cc586-94
11. Mr. Rhys Davies

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in order to allay apprehensions, he will arrange for representatives of some independent responsible organisations to visit at regular intervals all refugee internment camps in this country, and report to his Department on any problems which may arise?

15. Mr. Graham White

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has now received a report of the conditions in the refugee and prisoner of war camps?

72. Mr. James Hall

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the hardships caused by the numerous arrests recently made of male aliens between 60 and 70 years of age, most of whom have lived in this country for many years; and does he intend to have an early review of the reasons determining these internments so that these elderly people may be permitted to return to their ordinary duties?

73. Mr. Rhys Davies

asked the Home Secretary whether it is intended to release those refugees now in British internment camps whose loyalty and patriotism to this country are beyond doubt?

78. Sir Percy Harris

asked the Home Secretary whether he is now in a position to make any statement with regard to the policy of the Government in relation to aliens?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been asked to reply to Questions Nos. 11 and 15, and he proposes to answer together these two Questions and Nos. 72, 73 and 78. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and by the leave of the House, he proposes to make a full statement on this subject at the end of Questions; and perhaps my hon. Friends will await that statement.

At the end of Questions—

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

As the House is aware, the policy adopted at the outbreak of war was to examine by means of local tribunals and regional advisory committees all cases of Germans and Austrians and to intern only those about whom doubt was felt after such exam- ination. This policy resulted in the internment of a very small proportion of the large numbers of Germans and Austrians in this country. After the invasion of Holland, Belgium and France, and with the knowledge of what had happened in those countries, it was necessary to reconsider the position in the light of the military situation here, and for the reasons explained by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Debate on 10th July, it was decided that a policy of general internment must be adopted. That decision was to me a matter of great regret but I take responsibility for it as necessary and indeed inevitable. In giving effect to such a policy provision must always be made for suitable exemptions, and while there can be no question at the present time of reverting to a position in which the internment of men of enemy nationality shall be the exception rather than the rule, it is clear that further examination will be likely to disclose in a number of cases circumstances justifying the release of individuals interned in pursuance of the general policy.

The recent instructions for the internment of Germans and Austrians who had been placed in the C category provided for the exemption of those falling within certain specified descriptions. Retrospective effect will be given to those instructions, and steps taken accordingly for the release of such of the persons interned earlier under general directions as would have been exempted had the recent instructions been in force at the time. There have been cases of mistake in interpreting instructions which necessarily had to be carried out under a great sense of urgency. In particular persons have been interned who should have been exempted on grounds of ill-health or infirmity. These mistakes must be rectified with the least possible delay. Consideration must also be given to the question of enlarging the categories of exemption to include particularly those who can render services of special value or make a significant contribution to the war effort. I propose as soon as possible to publish a full statement of the categories of persons eligible for exemption and of the procedure to be followed in making applications for release.

To assist me in dealing with this problem of the control of aliens of enemy nationality, I have, with the authority of the War Cabinet, decided to appoint a small advisory committee. I am glad to say that Sir Herbert Emerson and Major-General Sir Neill Malcolm, whose work in connection with refugees is well-known, have consented to serve on this committee, and I hope to appoint as chairman someone who has had experience of high judicial office. The terms of reference of this committee will be:

  1. (i) to keep under review the application of the principles laid down in regard to the internment of enemy aliens and to make to the Home Secretary such suggestions and recommendations thereon as they think fit;
  2. (ii) to advise the Home Secretary on such proposals for modifying the internment policy as he may refer to them from time to time; and,
  3. (iii) to examine, awl make recommendations upon, such individual cases or groups of cases as may be referred to them from time to time by the Home Secretary.
I have also to inform the House that the Government have decided to transfer to the Home Office the responsibility for the welfare of those aliens who are interned. At the time when it was necessary to make rapid arrangements at short notice for the custody of large numbers of persons, it was essential to make use of the military organisation for this purpose. No other organisation could have coped with this task, and a tribute is due to the commandants and staffs of the camps for the efforts made by them to alleviate the position of the large numbers of prisoners for whom they had to make provision. But as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War said in the House on 10th July, it should not be the business of the Army to look after civilian internees, and while the War Office must continue to be responsible for providing the necessary camps and the service personnel to guard them, the Home Office is now to be responsible for managing the camps. The selection of aliens to be transferred overseas will also be a responsibility of the Home Office. The necessary executive crganisation for the discharge of these responsibilities is being set up with all speed.

So far, I have dealt mainly with the problem of aliens of German and Austrian nationality. The same arrangements will, however, extend so far as applicable to Italians, among whom there are of course few or no refugees. To complete the picture, I have to announce the appointment of an Advisory Council which will be attached to the Refugee Department of the Foreign Office and will be concerned with questions affecting aliens of many nationalities in this country, including the nationals of countries which have been overrun by Germany. This council will contain representatives of a wide range of interests, and one of its functions will be to advise and assist the Home Office in the arrangements to be made for the welfare of those detained in internment camps, and to make recommendations upon the problem of finding occupations for them. A full statement of the functions of this council will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. With the assist ance of this council and of the advisory committee to which I referred earlier, rapid progress will, I am sure, be made both in arranging for the release from internment of many Germans and Austrians who can properly be set at liberty, and in promoting the welfare of those whom it is necessary for reasons for which they are not responsible to keep in internment. Recognising that large numbers of them are anxious to help this country, it is the desire of the Government that everything possible shall be done to alleviate their position, and in particular to ensure that internment shall not involve conditions of enforced idleness.

Mr. Wedgwood

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement which he has just made misses the whole point? Instead of having categories to be left out of unjust imprisonment, there should be categories to be retained in imprisonment. May I ask him whether he has read the leading article which appears to-day in the "Evening Standard" by Michael Foot, which embodies the opinions of nine out of ten Englishmen?

Sir J. Anderson

I am certainly well aware of the point of view which has just been put by the right hon. Gentleman. As regards the last part of the Question, I have had occasion to read many leading articles of late, and I have noticed remarkable inconsistencies in articles published in the same journal over the last few weeks.

Mr. White

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the importance of his statement and the wide interest which will be taken in it, he will facilitate an opportunity being given to the House for the discussion of some aspects of it? The right hon. Gentleman in his statement referred to Germans and Italians. May I ask, as a matter of detail, whether in the term "Italians" he would now include Albanians, and also whether Czechs, Poles, Rumanians, and other nationalities who are not hostile to us but at present are in concentration camps will have the privilege of having their cases considered by means of the machinery just announced?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir. As far as persons of nationalities other than German and Italian are in internment camps, the arrangements which I described in the early part of my statement will be applicable. As regards the question of aliens generally, and in particular alien refugees, all matters affecting their interest and welfare will be within the scope of the larger body, the council, to which I referred in the latter part of my statement.

Mr. Rhys Davies

May I ask whether the very generous statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made will be brought to the notice of internees who desire release or to the notice of their relatives; and, secondly, whether the welfare Advisory Council which the right hon. Gentleman is setting up will see that regular visits are paid to the camps so that representations can be made to him on any problem which may arise?

Sir J. Anderson

It is certainly contemplated that visits should be paid to the camps by or on behalf of the Advisory Council to which I have referred. As regards the question of bringing the substance of what I have said to the notice of those who may be affected, all necessary steps will be taken to that end. As I said in the course of my statement, the conditions under which exemptions may be claimed and details of the machinery which is to be provided for dealing with applications, will be published at an early date.

Mr. James Hall

Will this committee be prepared to give priority to men of over 60 years of age? Some of these have already been interned and have had to be released because of ill health. Many of them have lived in this country for 50 years and have sons fighting in the British Army and it seems ironical that they should be interned.

Sir J. Anderson

That, I think, is rather a question of detail. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that it is specifically covered by the statement which I have made.

Sir William Davison

Will the right hon. Gentleman have inquiries made as to the conditions obtaining at Huyton Camp, near Liverpool?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir. I have already had inquiry made.

Major Cazalet

May I thank my right hon. Friend for an answer which, in my opinion, goes a very long way to meet the grievances expressed by hon. Members on this subject? May I ask him to bear in mind that speed is the essence of dealing with this problem, and that to-day, the internment of C category aliens is continuing? Will he do his best to see that the examination of these cases takes place as quickly as possible and that the committee gets to work at once, because a large number of individuals have now been suffering for a long time?

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

In view of the fact that these investigations are bound to take a considerable time, will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to afford facilities to those internees who have businesses—sometimes with employés who are British subjects—and who have had no means, up to the present time, of providing their employés with wages or keeping the businesses going? Will the right hon. Gentleman take such steps as are possible to enable people in that position to keep in touch with persons who are managing their affairs, in the interests both of themselves and of their employés?

Sir J. Anderson

I will certainly see what can be done in that regard.

Mr. Pickthorn

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that the speed of decision which he has promised will apply particularly to those categories of C aliens who have been sent to Canada and who, it is now recognised, were sent there in error and who are releasable persons?

Sir J. Anderson

It might be convenient if a question were put on the Paper on that subject. If so, I shall be glad to give a reply. The point has not been overlooked.

Mr. Burke

Will the wives of refugees be given some information immediately about the welfare or whereabouts of their husbands who have been taken away? For several weeks, some of these people have been in doubt as to where their husbands are or what has happened to them.

Sir J. Anderson

I am very anxious indeed to facilitate speedy communication between internees and their families.

Miss Rathbone

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider adding to those whose release he is willing to consider, certain categories which are not at present included? A large number of refugees who have given undoubted proof of their sympathy with this country do not come within the rather narrow range of categories to be considered for exemption.

Sir J. Anderson

I did provide for that in my statement. May I repeat what I said, that consideration must also be given to the question of enlarging the categories of exemption.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I do not think we can discuss this matter any further.

Mr. Wedgwood

On a point of Order. It is most important that we should know whether we are to have an opportunity of debating this question before we part with this, our only opportunity of dealing with it by Question and Answer in this House. If there is to be no opportunity for debate, I am sure Mr. Speaker, you will give us some further opportunity of obtaining answers to our Questions.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members cannot go on asking questions about it all day.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

On a point of Order. May I ask whether I can ask a Supplementary Question?

Mr. Speaker

I thought the hon. and gallant Member would help me to bring this to a close.

Mr. Silverman

On a point of Order. I recognise the necessity of not continuing this too long, but there is one important and extremely urgent aspect of this matter which has not been mentioned so far.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think this is the time for putting any further questions on the subject.

Following are the functions of the Advisory Council referred to in the statement:

  1. "(a) To suggest measures for maintaining the morale of aliens in this country so as to bind them more closely to our common cause.
  2. (b) To review and if necessary to suggest measures for the co-ordination, to the end described in (a) above, of the work of the various refugee committees and other Voluntary organisations concerned with aliens in this country.
  3. (c) To maintain contact with the various Government Departments having responsibilities in connection with refugees and other classes of aliens and with foreign Governments or National Committees established in this country.
  4. (d) To advise and assist the Home Office in the arrangements made for the welfare of enemy aliens in internment camps.
  5. (e) To study, and make recommendations upon, the problem of finding occupations for enemy aliens in internment camps."

71. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is taking steps to impress on the Dominion Governments that B and C categories of internees sent, or being sent, to their Dominions are neither criminals nor hostile to this country, but victims of, or refugees from, Nazi oppression; that they should be kept distinct and separate from prisoners of war and hostile aliens; and that reasonable facilities should be allowed for communication between them and friends or relatives in this country?

The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Shakespeare)

Steps are being taken to send to the Dominion Governments concerned detailed particulars relating to any internees sent from this country. The Dominions are parties to the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1929, and intend to apply that Convention generally to civilian internees.

Mr. Sorensen

Does the hon. Member not recognise that these internees are not prisoners of war, and that what most disturbs them is the assumption in some quarters here, which is liable to be translated across the Atlantic, that they are criminals? Will he not make an announcement on this point?

Mr. Shakespeare

The Dominion Governments appreciate these points, as the United Kingdom Government do. In fact, the B and C categories are separated from the others.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the hon. Gentleman not say so to the Dominion Governments?

Mr. Shakespeare

It is done.