HC Deb 04 December 1958 vol 596 cc1359-62
41. Mr. Teeling

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department for how long Pastor Niemöller was questioned by immigration officials the last time he attempted to enter this country; what it was they were objecting to; and why he was not questioned a few days previously when he visited this country to attend a memorial service for the late Bishop of Chichester.

43. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what special reason Pastor Niemöller was questioned at some length by immigration officers on his recent arrival in England; and if he will make a statement on this incident.

49. Mr. Wade

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why Pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been invited to this country for important speaking engagements, was detained for questioning by British immigration officials at London Airport on Saturday, 18th October, 1958.

Mr. Renton

Dr. Niemöller, on arrival at London Airport from Germany on Saturday, 18th October, presented himself to an immigration officer at approximately 12 noon. He was asked one or two questions about the purpose of his visit, and at six minutes past twelve he was handed his passport duly endorsed with leave to land for a period which would cover the programme he had outlined, to which no objection had been taken. It appeared, however, that he was upset at having been asked any questions at all; and he said that he would return to Germany. It was pointed out to him that he still had time to catch his train, but he did not alter his decision and returned to Germany by the next flight about five hours later. When Dr. Niemöller paid an earlier visit to this country, on 13th October, he came to attend a memorial service for the late Bishop Bell and said he would be returning to Germany the following day.

Mr. Teeling

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the difficulties which must be caused to our Foreign Office Departments abroad, who try to do everything they can to make people welcome here, when they find that these young immigration officers causing so much trouble? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Will he tell us what arrangements are made with countries such as Germany, where visas are required, and whether immigration officers are informed before very prominent visitors come so that six-minute waits may not be necessary?

Mr. Renton

I must make it clear that the immigration officer was not at fault here. Dr. Niemöller was under examination, before he was finally given his stamped passport, for only six minutes. Reports to the contrary are quite unfounded. With regard to distinguished visitors coming here, if they care to give notice to the immigration authorities by any means at their disposal that they are coming the immigration officers will be only too glad to know about it.

Mr. Wade

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not agree, on the information which I have sent to him, that this was a distressing experience for Pastor Niemöller, and that some of the questions, such as what he was going to preach about, seem to be scarcely necessary? Putting these matters on one side, may I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman, if in future Pastor Niemöller is invited to this country and is willing to accept, whether his right hon. Friend would give some assurance that Pastor Niemöller will be received with the courtesy which one would wish to see extended to a person of his age and distinction, and that the formalities will be proceeded with as expeditiously as possible?

Mr. Renton

I readily give an assurance that Pastor Niemöller will be treated with every courtesy. With regard to the occasion of which complaint is being made, I do not consider that the experience could be considered in any way distressing, bearing in mind the facts. The plane landed at 11.36 some way from the building where passengers have to assemble. The passengers, 35 in number, were driven by coach to this building. They arrived at 11.50 and examination of passports started at 11.53. By six minutes past twelve all 35 passengers, including Dr. Niemöller, had passed through. I suggest that, in the circumstances, the matter was dealt with expeditiously and that there was no reason whatever for complaint.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that this distinguished minister of religion understood that he was unwelcome on that occasion, and that my hon. and learned Friend's assurances today are satisfactory?

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman reply to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Wade)? Was a question put to Dr. Niemöller on what he was going to preach? If so, why was the question put?

Mr. Renton

No, Sir, I understand that it was not.

Mr. Shinwell

Without making a complaint about immigration officers, may I ask whether we can be informed of the nature of the questions asked?

Mr. Renton

Dr. Niemöller was not asked a great many questions. He was asked what was the purpose of his visit, how long he was coming for, and where he wished to go. Above all, of course, it was necessary for the immigration officer to find out how long a stay could be permitted. It was for that reason and that reason alone that he telephoned the Chief Immigration Officer while Dr. Niemöller was kept waiting, but only for two minutes.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Was not the asking of such questions of a man as eminent as Niemöller and with such a record an insult of the same kind as was offered to Dr. Pauling in September?

Mr. Renton

Far from being an insult it was in Dr. Niemöller's own interests that the questions should be asked and answered so that he could be given the length of stay which he wanted to have, and, if I may add, which was exactly the length of stay which he was given.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Why could not Dr. Niemöller be free to stay here as long as he likes?

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