HC Deb 16 February 1960 vol 617 cc1233-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sharples.]

8.25 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)

I am glad to have the opportunity this evening of making a plea on behalf of 40,000 Ukrainians who are at present very welcome guests of this country. Of all the peoples who have been forced by man's inhumanity to man to seek asylum with us there are none that have a greater claim to our sympathy and understanding than the Ukrainians. None have adapted themselves more easily and happily and unselfishly to our way of life. They are thrifty and industrious people. They are doing a fine job in this country in agriculture, in the coal mines and in many other under-manned industries. One has only to consult the police of the large cities in which they have settled to learn what a high reputation they have and how richly it is deserved.

I believe that the position is the same in all the countries where they have settled. Almost a million Ukrainians form a highly respected party in that nation of many races, the United States. Over 40,000 of them were among the volunteers in the Canadian armed forces in the last war. They fought very gallantly on our behalf in Africa, in Italy, in France and in Germany and they earned many distinctions. However, despite the Ukrainians' happy faculty of integrating themselves into the lives of the nations in whose countries they live, there is perhaps no nation that has such a passionate feeling of patriotism and sense of nationhood as they have. It is a flame which they have kept burning brightly through many hundreds of years of persecution and attempted genocide such as we in this country find difficult to understand.

The story of the mass deportations, the individual torture, the deliberate planned annihilation by starvation which they have suffered in these years at the hands of Communist Russia is perhaps one of the most terrible stories in the world. I have neither the time nor the desire to harrow the House with details of those days, nor do I wish to weary hon. Members with a history lesson. Nevertheless, I think it is right to remember that the Ukraine was the first Christian kingdom of Eastern Europe, and that the Ukrainians have always been and remain to this day a very deeply religious people. The Ukraine was a nation which was greatly respected and of high culture in Europe many years before William the Conqueror conquered this country, and it was indeed a nation of considerable renown in Europe when the Russians, and indeed ourselves, were still in a state of barbarism.

Scattered over different continents, there are about 47 million Ukrainians, and approximately 45 million live in the Ukraine proper. At least they did, though that number has been considerably reduced. It has been reduced by millions by the horrors of which I was speaking earlier. At any rate, sufficient remain there to form a nation not so very much smaller in population than our own, which has succeeded in keeping itself during all that time as a separate nation, with its own traditions, its own culture, and, perhaps most important of all from the point of view of the plea which I wish to make tonight, its own language.

I hope that in these very few words I have perhaps said enough to persuade my hon. and learned Friend that, morally at any rate, the Ukraine has as much right to be considered as an independent nation as any other nation, and indeed a great deal more right than some. Nevertheless, we in this country, for reasons that may seem adequate to the Government, deny them that right, and it was the latest manifestation of this denial that caused me to initiate this debate tonight.

Early last December the Nottingham branch of the Anglo-Ukrainian Society, of which I am very happy to be a member, approached me in very great distress of mind and told me that its members in Nottingham had been summoned to report to police headquarters and had there been pressed to change their nationality from Ukrainian, as then registered, to either Russian or Polish.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

Were any of them in the hon. and gallant Member's constituency asked to accept the term "uncertain"?

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

I shall go fairly fully, I hope, into the question of registration as "uncertain" later on.

At any rate, this request—I will not use a stronger term—was made to them by the police. I hope I have said enough already for hon. Members to realise how deeply humiliated and indeed horrified the Ukrainians were by such a request. It was worse than merely a question of humiliation. There were indeed many among them with a definite sense of panic. They feared that this was merely the prelude to their deportation to Russia. It might seem quite ridiculous to us that they should have had any such feelings, but I think we should appreciate that people who have suffered the hundreds of years of persecution that the Ukrainians have react very differently to a situation of that sort as compared with ourselves.

In proof of that point I should like to quote from two letters which I have received, the first from the secretary of the Anglo-Ukrainian Society in Nottingham, which I received in December, and in which he says: The Ukrainians here in Nottingham just cannot understand why some of them are now being called to the police station and pressed to change their nationality, and underlying their worry is the fear that possibly they may be forced to return to the U.S.S.R. or Poland, although, personally, I do not think that this particular action will be taken. With this letter was enclosed a copy of a letter which the secretary of the Nottingham branch had written to the chief constable of Nottingham. I quote from it as follows: A number of Ukrainians have approached our society asking questions as to why they are being sent to the police station and being pressed to change their nationality to Russian or Polish. This action of the City Police is causing the Ukrainians a great deal of worry and, I might say, a sense of panic. They are beginning to wonder if by being forced to change their nationality this might be the prelude to some further step. Naturally this does not serve to better the relations between the British and the Ukrainian people. There has always been a great respect by the Ukrainians towards the British people and they have always tried to adapt themselves to the British way of life and to cause as little trouble as possible to the authorities. The Ukrainians are a freedom-loving people and millions of them have died in their struggle against Communist Russia, and it is a great humiliation indeed for them to be called now to change their nationality to Russian or Polish. Of course, I am aware that this action by the police was not due to any new Order by the Government or indeed to any change of policy. It was in fact due—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but if he is referring to action by local police which is not due to any Order of the Government, he may find himself in difficulty in keeping his speech within the rules of order.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was not suggesting that. The action of the local police was entirely due to Government action. The point I was making was that it was not due to any new Government policy or Government Order. It was due to the action of the Government in sending out Home Office Circular 119/59, dated 10th September, 1959, which calls the attention of the police to a previous Government instruction which I will quote. It probably dates from some ten years back. The relevant part, dealing with the question of the registration of aliens, reads as follows: Special considerations apply in the case of Ukrainians. The Ukraine is not a sovereign state and aliens coming from this area should correctly be described as nationals of the country of which their place of birth actually forms part. Thus, Czech Ukrainians, Polish Ukrainians, Rumanian Ukrainians, Russian Ukrainians and U.S.S.R. Ukrainians should, respectively, be described as Czechoslovaks, Poles, Rumanians and Russians. Permission has, however, exceptionally been given for aliens who claim to be Ukrainian and who object to their correct nationality being entered in their registration certificate to have 'Uncertain (U)' entered under the heading 'Nationality' in their certificates and on their registration cards". The Home Office Circular in question called the attention of the police to this Order. I can only assume that Circular 119 was sent out last September because the majority of police forces in this country, with commendable common sense and human understanding, had taken no notice of the instruction which I have quoted. It seems to me that the latest circular must have originated from somebody in Whitehall with what I would call an over-tidy office mind, but with no appreciation whatever of the human problems involved.

As regards these human problems, I have dried to show that there is no race who, morally, are more entitled to consider themselves an independent nation than the Ukrainians. But I would now like to advance four practical reasons why I think they are entitled to demand that recognition.

Firstly, the Ukraine is a full member of the United Nations and is, of course, recognised by our country as such. Secondly, it has its own Government and its own Foreign Office. Thirdly, it was recognised by this country and eight other European countries as an independent nation in 1918 and did, in fact, maintain that independence until 1923. The Ukraine again successfully asserted its independence in the last war in 1941. Fourthly, it is, in fact, at the present time in Russia a criminal offence for a Ukrainian to register himself as anything except Ukrainian.

I would also like to know what practical purpose this Home Office instruction is intended to serve. It will not in any Sense assist the police. I discussed this matter with the acting chief constable of Nottingham and he has told me that he would very much prefer Ukrainians to be registered as Ukrainians. He said that if in the city, as sometimes happens in all cities, they had some sort of trouble or feud between different races or, indeed, between different political parties, the police would want to know of just what nationality every alien actually was. For instance, the police would always know that no Latvian or Lithuanian or Ukrainian would be in sympathy with any Communist or pro-Communist group, but the police might not find their task quite so easy if all these people were simply labelled as Russian. In the same way, of course, the police would know very well how the sympathies of most of the Spanish refugees in this country would be likely to lie in any political quarrel

At any rate, that is the strong opinion of the police in Nottingham, and I have no reason to believe that it would be different in the case of any other police force. Moreover I put this specific question to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State: what would be the position of Ukrainians in this country, if they were registered as Russians, if we went to war with the U.S.S.R.? Would they then be automatically interned as enemy aliens, despite the fact that they would, of course, be among our most fervent supporters?

Finally, I would advance this argument. How would we feel if we had lost the last war and the Germans had occupied our country and it had been incorporated into the Reich, and, while living as refugees in some other country, we were ordered to register ourselves either as Germans or as of uncertain nationality? Of course, we should contemptuously refuse to do anything of the sort. We know that we are British and in exactly the same way the Ukrainians know what they are—they know they are Ukrainians. They are not Russians, never have been Russians and are absolutely determined that they never will be Russians. They have fought and died and suffered martyrdom for hundreds of years to prove that they are Ukrainians.

Will my hon. and learned Friend rescind this Order and allow Ukrainians to register themselves as what they are, Ukrainians, and will he do it soon? In Nottingham, as a result of Home Office Circular No. 119, 38 Ukrainians have now registered themselves as Polish after having been called to police headquarters. Fifty-two have registered themselves as of uncertain nationality. There remain still to be interviewed 317. Will my hon. and learned Friend rescind the Order as soon as possible and save those remaining 317 this distress and humiliation?

I know from answers which my hon. and learned Friend has given to questions that he is sympathetic to this plea. I ask him, therefore, to try as quickly as he can to overcome this red tape, which, presumably, has caused this Order and the issue of this latest circular, and to put the thing on a better footing. If he cannot do that at present, will he at least adopt a suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and allow Ukrainians to register themselves as Ukrainian refugees? That is a practice which is adopted in France with, I understand, perfectly satisfactory results. If he cannot do that, will he adopt the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. M. Macmillan) and allow them to register as Ukrainian with a P or R or some other letter in brackets after their name?

The Government recognise and sympathise with what is generally called the "upsurge of nationalism" in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, they encourage it and hustle the nations concerned along the road to independence. Yet few of those nations have suffered at all in their march to nationhood. In order to maintain their nationhood or to attempt to maintain it. Ukrainians have suffered fearfully. Surely, in World Refugee Year of all times, it must not be said that we have added this humiliation to their suffering.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

In reinforce the plea of the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) that the Ukrainian contingent in this country should have fair play. I, too, am a member of the Anglo-Ukrainian Association. There is a strong association in my constituency of Rochdale, so that I have had an opportunity to see how closely knit is this organisation for the benefit of the people who have suffered so long and been so persecuted in their attempts to maintain their own nationality.

I cannot say how strongly these people feel about the type of treatment which they are receiving and how disappointed and hurt they were when the Home Office Circular asked that they should be registered as Russian, Polish, or uncertain. They are neither Russian nor Polish. They are Ukrainians and proud of the fact that they are Ukrainians. They have their own language and their own culture. To make one small criticism of them, they tend to stay together as a group of Ukrainians rather than to integrate themselves into the life of the community, and that is especially the case in Lancashire. So strong are the racial ties that that is bound to happen.

These are not the flotsam and jetsam of the world. These are hard-working, deeply religious people. Knowing many of them for some time, I feel that the least that we can do is to allow them to register under their own title. Instead of "U" for "uncertain" let them register as "U" for "Ukrainian", and if there has to be a "T" for "Temporary" or "R" behind their name, that does not matter.

It is rather strange that someone in the Civil Service, knowing the history of the Russian domination of these people, should ask them to register as Russian. It is true that we do not recognise the Ukraine, although she is a full member of the United Nations. I am certain that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at this again, the point that has been made so many times from both sides of the House can be met.

I have had correspondence with the hon. and learned Gentleman on this problem. I recognise his difficulty. I appreciate the sympathy he has extended both to me and to the people on whose behalf I have spoken, but this is a festering sore in the heart of these people. They have come here to find refuge. They have found a way of life which, even if they cannot go back to their own country, has given them hope of being able to live as a community. They live in a strange land, but they follow their own customs, language and religion. If we could recognise them as Ukrainians that would make one group of people, whose loyalty to this country has never been in doubt, very happy.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Halifax)

I do not want to repeat the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. McCann). The only difference between us on this issue is that east of the Pennines Ukrainians seem to integrate fairly well, because not long ago I came across a family in which two sisters had married, one an Italian and one a German, and the children spoke four languages, all with a strong Yorkshire accent.

Mr. McCann

They integrate in the marital sense, but instead of the Ukrainians becoming English the wives become Ukrainian.

Mr. Macmillan

That is possibly a tribute to the virility of the Ukrainians.

There is no doubt that the Ukrainians are part of a nation, even if we do not recognise their independence as a State. In this context, it is important to remember that by these regulations we are removing not only their independence—that has been done by others— but their nationhood, and that is something about which they feel, and I think rightly, very strongly.

May I quote from a letter I received from a Ukrainian in Halifax? The letter says: Perhaps I should point out now that the word 'Ukrainian' is to our people symbolic of our long-fought-for independence, and to be registered as any other nationality is a bitter blow to our national pride. If this country had been defeated, how would we feel if we were compelled to register as refugees in another country?

I am not convinced by the Minister's reasons, although they have been put forward with the utmost sympathy. There is no real purpose behind the regulations. I went so far as to make inquiries about whether there was an ulterior political motive in them, but I was told that there was no sinister purpose involved. It was simply a question of securing consistency of records. I have managed to reassure the Ukrainians in Halifax that they have no need to fear that there is any question of foreign policy behind the regulations, or any difficulty about deportation and so on. I have assured them that these regulations have been made because all other nationals are registered as belonging to some State which is recognised as being independent.

There is some point in registering other nationals who are not refugees but who are merely visitors or work here on a permit, because if they misbehave they can be deported. Also, many of them will ultimately return home, but the Ukrainians have no home to go to. We have already told them that we will not deport them. What does it matter what labels they are given, among the many shifts and changes which occur in Central Europe? If there is some adjustment of the Oder-Neisse line will their registration be changed once again?

I hope that the Minister will admit that we have shown that little practical purpose is to be served by forcing Ukranians to register as other nationalities. My hon. Friend has pointed out that in certain cases an inter-Slav quarrel, which happens from time to time, might lead to slight confusion. Certainly a Ukrainian will not cease quarrelling with a Pole simply because the Ukrainian is also called a Pole. If anything, that will add fuel to the flames.

I know that my hon. and learned Friend is sympathetic. Those of us who have dealings with these nations are used to hearing them referred to as the captive countries. We cannot liberate them, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend can liberate himself and cease to be the captive of his officials, who have insisted upon this method of registration. Various methods have been suggested to overcome the difficulty. These people may be registered as Ukrainian refugees. If it is absolutely necessary that the nation in which they were born be identified, that could be done by putting an initial letter, in brackets, after their classification. But in any case, I beg my hon. and learned Friend to show that this country is not dead to sentiment, and that mankind and the national feelings of men and women are more important than any machine, even if it be a Government machine.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I support the plea put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I was very relieved to hear the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) say that he was satisfied that there was no political motive or inspiration behind the recent action of the Home Office. It had passed through my mind that Mr. Khrushchev might have complained to the Prime Minister about this situation when he and the right hon. Gentleman met not long ago, and that this was one of the many prices that we have to pay for Anglo-Soviet amity and understanding. I am glad to hear that that is not so.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I can assure the hon. Member that if it were so Anglo-Russian amity would have been bought at the expense of a family rift.

Mr. Houghton

I am glad that we can consider this question upon the practical basis of consistency of record. That helps tremendously. It reduces the matter to the proportion of a filing system—a classification of records in the Home Office—and on that basis we might bring some sense to bear on the question.

Why did the hon. and learned Member cause—if he did cause—this reminder to be sent to the police as recently as last September, when the original regulation was some years old and the police had apparently been exercising their discretion as to whether or not they acted on it? Why was it necessary to do this? I do not want to attack civil servants, or to cast aspersions upon them; my connections with the Civil Service are far too long and too deep to allow me to do that. But the political and social judgment of a Minister must be brought to bear upon any passion of clerks or civil servants for consistency of records. That is what I complain of.

It may be that, theoretically, these Ukrainians are the nationals of an independent State, be it Russia, Poland. Czechoslovakia or some other country, but they nevertheless passionately desire to retain their description as Ukrainians. Shall we deny it? That is the question. I ask the Minister: when Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were swallowed up without the consent of the peoples there did we then, automatically, and at once say, "Well, we are very sorry. You are Russians. We cannot help that. You have lost your nationhood, your independence. You have just gone. You are sunk without a trace, and you are indeed Russians." Is that what we do for the sake of the consistency of the record, or any other purpose? If we do. I think that it is an abomination and an outrage on the pride and the dignity of human beings.

A number of Ukrainians live in my constituency. It is no accident that the hon. Member for Halifax, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. McCann), the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) and I are all here. We all have Ukrainians in our constituencies and not until recently did we know how many we had. They lived quietly and decently, mixing with the communities in our respective areas without any fuss or palaver. But when this happened they were deeply moved. I saw a very agitated deputation of Ukrainians recently in my constituency. They had the sympathy of all those around them, and that is important.

What do we gain by this? How does it help anybody to look up a book and see on the top line, "Nationality, uncertain"? What does it tell them except that there is some uncertainty about it? If it is ever necessary to take any action on the nationality of these people, I would shrink from speculation on the treatment of this matter in the event of war between this country and the Soviet Union.

I just cannot contemplate that situation, so I do not want to speculate upon the problem that might arise in this context. What I think is of more practical importance is that we are not thinking of sending these people back anywhere. In any case, we would have great difficulty in deciding where they should go, and would have to ponder hard and long on the conditions into which we might be sending them. One of the important aspects is that the Ukrainians live peacefully and without disorder amongst us.

I am very puzzled about this. I am used to bureaucracy in all its forms—agreeable and aggravating. I thought, "Well, why have they done this? What is this fuss about? Why could not they leave the matter alone?" The police were leaving it alone but, for some reason that he has not yet explained—and I hope that he will explain tonight—the Minister caused the police to be reminded. Why? What harm was anyone doing? What did it matter if they were left alone in peace and happiness and contentment among our fellow citizens in our constituencies?

Now, all this disturbance has been created. Men and women have been made unhappy, and have been given a feeling of insecurity when we know that they need have no such fear. As the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central has said, when people are living as the guests of another country they naturally have a feeling of insecurity. They know that they cannot demand the rights of an Englishman, and that it is our tolerance that permits them to stay here.

We have a reputation of being an hospitable country. We are the refuge of those who flee from persecution and from disagreeable conditions. Throughout history we have offered our protection to those who have wanted to escape from intolerable conditions. When we do that, we want to make those who come here for refuge feel as secure as we possibly can. That is the whole point of offering them refuge—to give diem a sense of security, and to make them feel that they are out of harm's way and that they may rebuild their lives somewhere else.

If we are now to create this uncertainty in their minds we are doing them a disservice and causing unhappiness. One of the functions of Ministers is to prevent people being made unhappy unless there is a real and overwhelming reason for something being done that makes them unhappy. I cannot, for the life of me, see what this is all about. I hope that the Minister will understand how deeply we all feel about this matter, and that he will take steps to repair the damage that is being done at present.

There is no real difficulty about it. If there are some rules—alter them. If there is a "sacred cow" of consistency of records—kill it. There is no reason why we should be made slaves to a fine insistence on record systems unless there is a real practicable purpose—and I do not think that there is. These people are aliens in the eyes of the law. They must have alien registration books. Their photographs are in the books. Their descriptions are in the books. They have to report to the police. They have to obey the rules governing the residence of aliens. The police have track of them all the time. What does it matter what appears on the first line of the book—that is what I want to know—especially when their nationality, if it had to be defined in terms of the word of today would, in many cases, he difficult to determine?

If Ukrainian is their nationality, I see no reason why Ukrainian they cannot be. Just recently, I received the first of a series of booklets being published by the Soviet Government on the 15 independent republics in the U.S.S.R. The first book I got was about Georgia; the second was about the Ukraine. One reads all about the Ukrainian nation, its people and the rest.

The Russians probably portray the Ukraine as being more independent than it really is—I do not know what the real facts are about that—but, at least, the Ukraine is defined as a separate country for the purpose of Russian geography a id the Russian information services throughout the world. One reads in this booklet of a separate Council of Ministers, and a separate administration of the Ukraine. That, of course, is the Russian Ukraine but, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, part of Poland was originally within the scope of the Ukrainian people.

I have said probably more than I ought to have said on various aspects of this matter, but I hope that the Minister will take the question to his heart, and see wheher the requirements of administration, the consistency of records, the obedience to the rules, cannot be moulded to the human problem present here, and so give back to these people their feeling of security and of dignity; and ease their minds, whose peace has been seriously damaged in recent weeks, and give them the happiness with the people amongst whom they have chosen to live, since, for various reasons, they are debarred from returning to their homeland.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I hope that the Minister will make a very definite attempt to answer the question which has just been put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)—why cannot they leave the Ukrainians alone? I, for one, see absolutely no reason why the Government should insist in carrying out what obviously is a purely bureaucratic system. When my hon. Friend talks about bureaucracy, in view of his background, I believe there is something very pertinent in the case he makes.

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) say that we cannot liberate the Ukraine. We cannot liberate any of these countries which happen to be under Russian rule. At least, we certainly cannot liberate them by military methods. The more we get that fact implanted upon our own Government and our allies, the more we shall succeed in getting at the reality of life in that unfortunate part of the world. I should not say that at present it is so unfortunate, but it is a part of the world which has had an unfortunate history. It has been overrun in two world wars by Germans, there has been the ebb and flow of wars and the unfortunate victims of the war are still with us.

I represent some of them. In Scotland also there are people from the Ukraine. They were first captured by the Germans and brought into Germany. They then came over here. Whatever they call themselves, whether they call themselves Ukrainians or not, is not a matter of vital importance, surely, to the administration of alien justice in this country. They have a different language from the Russians and a different language from the Poles. It is true that some of these nations may be obsessed with their sense of nationality.

I remember one occasion when I was visiting East Germany, occupied by the Russian forces. I went to Weimar and discovered a rather strange thing. I found a Russian church which had been built two or three hundred years ago because a Russian princess married a German duke, the Duke of Weimar. He had a Russian church built for the benefit of his wife. Curiously enough, when the Russian army of occupation marched in, it decided to use the church for religious purposes for the personnel that accompanied the Russian Army.

To my great surprise the church was opened and I was shown round by a priest of the Russian Church. I asked him whether he was a Russian, and he replied, "No, I come from the Ukraine. Do you come from England?" I replied, "No, I come from Scotland." I could well understand that if any unfortunate Scots were in the Soviet Union in the same circumstances, one of the biggest insults which could be offered them would be to insist on registering them as English.

Mr. McCann

Or "uncertain".

Mr. Hughes

I see no rule or social reason why these people cannot be left alone. At about this time last year I was in Kiev with the Prime Minister. As he walked through the crowd, who were very pleased to see him, he shouted out in Russian—not in Ukrainian—"I wish you success. I wish you success." If he wished the people of the Ukraine success, surely it is a mistake for the Home Office to insist on an arbitrary regulation of this kind.

I do not think this is a subject on which Mr. Khrushchev tried to bargain with the Prime Minister. Indeed, I am sure that the subject never entered the discussion. I also doubt whether Mr. Khrushchev would at this time want to see beck in the Ukraine several thousand people who have been living in the West. Of course, if the seven-year plan is successful, things may change. I never permit the Prime Minister to forget his tribute to Mr. Khrushchev, in which he said that he had done the greatest constructive work in the world.

In the U.S.S.R. they are pointing to the promised land. If this is achieved, then in another seven years, if the standard of life in the Ukraine has risen to the level of that in the United States, there may be an opportunity for these people to return to their native land. I hope that that time will come, that the Ukraine will be prosperous and that its agriculture will flourish. I hope that its organisation will result in a high standard of life and that these unfortunate people and their families, who felt the brunt of the cruelty of one of the most cruel phases of the war, will eventually be able to go back to a prosperous and flourishing Ukraine.

I am sure that the Government hope that this time will come. In the meantime, why cannot the Government accept the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby and the hon. Member for Halifax and leave these unfortunate people alone?

9.19 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

I am grateful, as I am sure is the whole House, to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) for giving us this opportunity to consider the question of the registration of the Ukrainians in this country. I am particularly grateful because, as I hope the House will find, it gives me an opportunity to remove the misconceptions and fears which, as has been shown by some of the moving speeches which we have heard tonight, have undoubtedly arisen as a result of some instructions in a regulation issued by the Aliens Department of the Home Office on 10th September last year.

I should like to join with my hon. and gallant Friend in paying tribute to the qualities of the Ukrainian people who came here during and after the war. We in the Home Office know what good and, mostly, hard-working people they are. We record with great satisfaction the way that they have settled down in this country and the contribution that they have made to our efforts at postwar reconstruction. I personally have come across some of these people and therefore have reason to share the admiration that has been expressed.

My hon. and gallant Friend alleged that the Nottingham police requested people who were registered as Ukrainians to change that registration to Russian or Polish. We in the Home Office do not know exactly what the Nottingham police have said to individual Ukrainians. As Mr. Deputy-Speaker correctly pointed out, that is not a matter which can engage the responsibility of the House except in so far as it was the result of a Circular issued on behalf of a Minister of the Crown.

I stress that—as under the Circular of ten years ago so under the Circular of last September—people who claim to be Ukrainians and are registered as Ukrainians or have expressed a wish to register as Ukrainians are asked by the police to register either as being of a specific nationality or as being of uncertain nationality and the letter "U" is added afterwards as indicating "Ukrainian". I shall have more to say about this procedure in the course of my remarks, but I felt that it was right at the beginning to restate what I think is the main cause of contention in the debate so that the House may feel, as I hope it does, that I at least understand what I have to reply to.

There was a fear—it was the principal fear expressed by the Ukrainians, and certainly by the community association on their behalf—that as the result of the action taken by at least one police force on the Home Office Circular some change was intended, or would be made, in their status as refugees in this country. It was even suggested, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan), that some pressure had been exerted from the other side of the Iron Curtain. I am very glad indeed that he stressed that there has been nothing whatever so sinister and, as I hope to show, the police circular was not in any way prompted by any such pressure or consideration.

I wish to give the categorical assurance that no change in status has occurred or was intended. I wish to make it clear that Ukrainians who came here as refugees and have made their homes among us are as welcome now as they were when they came and as welcome as they have ever been. Further, there is no question of any action against them. They have no cause whatever to feel disturbed, insecure or in any way alarmed by the corrections which have had to be made in a comparatively few individual cases to the registration particulars under the Aliens Order.

In saying this I am repeating and reaffirming the unqualified assurances given to the Nottingham branch of the Anglo-Ukrainian Society and the Answer I gave in this House at Question Time on 28th January. I want to make this assurance as emphatic as I can because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is most anxious that these worthy, honest and hard-working people should continue to live contentedly among us in the way hoped for by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton).

Their position as residents here has not been altered in any way as a result of the Circular of 10th September, but I should explain the procedure which has given rise to their apparent uneasiness. I do not dispute that there has been uneasiness. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax referred to the possibility of my being a captive of other people. The truth is that those other people and I are captives of the law of the land which, at the moment, is the Aliens Order, 1953, which in this respect is a continuation of aliens legislation of many years' standing.

Under Article 13 of that Aliens Order—this answers the specific question asked by the hon. Member for Sowerby—particulars of aliens have to be registered with the police. We have to go to the Second Schedule to the Order to find out what those particulars are. One particular required is: Present nationality. How and when acquired. Previous nationality, if any. I will explain how, as a matter of administration, that is interpreted and applied.

Nationality is something derived from citizenship of an independent political state recognised as such by our Foreign Office. It cannot be acquired from membership of an ethnic, geographical or linguistic group which has no recognized political status. In modern history, certainly during the last few centuries, whatever the greatness of its past as the earliest eastern Christian kingdom, the Ukraine has had no independent political status. It follows from that general proposition that we cannot in practice allow—

Mr. F. H Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that the Ukraine is not an independent political State. Is it not one of the States which is a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?

Mr. Renton

That, of course, is a matter of opinion, but on these questions of recognition it is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. McCann) will be familiar with the terms in which my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs wrote to him about that very matter, pointing out that, although within the United Nations after the war recognition was given to the Ukraine and to Byelorussia as separate States for the purpose of recognition by the United Nations, we have never recognised the separate existence of those two—whatever noncommittal word one can use—countries. We look to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Soviet Russia, as the Soviet State within which those two so-called countries are contained. The Ukraine is not recognised by the Foreign Office as an independent State.

Once we have that conception of nationality, it follows as a matter of practice that we cannot allow separate groups which are not identical with political States to be registered under descriptions chosen by people who claim to have such a position. If we did so, we might find ourselves registering, for example, Slovenes, Croats, Armenians or Catalans. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) explained in converse the situation in which a Scotsman might find himself when travelling abroad and not wanting to register as British. It reminded me that I had a friend who whenever travelling abroad attempted to register as Cornish and found himself in difficulty.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Will my hon. and learned Friend explain more clearly why people should not be registered as Serbs, Croats or Slovenes? What would be the harm of their being so registered? For the reasons I tried to give during my speech, would it not also be of advantage to police forces? These people are of different nationalities.

Mr. Renton

As I have pointed out, the recognition of States for this purpose is a matter upon which we have to accept the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. Therefore, my hon. and gallant Friend's question would be more correctly addressed to a Foreign Office Minister.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

I will see that it is.

Mr. Renton

I want to deal next with people, of whom these are a great many, whom we admit as people with refugee status and who are entitled to protection under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. The principles which I have enunciated as to deciding what is their nationality holds good even when the people regard themselves as refugees from the State from which they came. For example, we have many Polish and Hungarian refugees here. They are registered with us as, respectively, Polish and Hungarian.

We do not, however, deal with the Ukrainians in that way. For the past ten years we have deferred to their feelings. It was decided under the previous Government of ten years ago, after discussing the matter with representatives of the Ukrainian community here, that Ukrainians who wished to be so registered officially could be registered as being of uncertain nationality and the letter "U" was added after their name. That was in deference to the feelings of Ukrainians. It was an exception which was made on their behalf. There is no other racial group which has any special arrangement of that kind made.

Strictly speaking, I suppose, the alternative would have been to register them as Stateless persons, who also have to be registered as Stateless when there is no nationality to state within the terms of the Aliens Order. But we do not register them simply as Stateless persons. We register them as of uncertain nationality with "U" added after their names. About 8,000 Ukrainians have been registered in that way.

No difficulty of the kind which has been described tonight might have arisen but for the fact that a few police forces did not in all cases use either that form of registration or register the original nationality of the Ukrainians concerned, which may have been German, Russian or Polish.

When it was brought to the notice of the Home Office that a good many Ukrainians were registered by the police simply as Ukrainian, the Home Office, not for bureaucratic reasons but to ensure consistent application of what is undoubtedly the law, decided that as it had in any event to get out fresh instructions for the police dealing with a considerable number of points, it should try to get clarity and uniformity of practice by dealing with this point too.

That is how it was that last autumn, while getting out new and full instructions for the police so that they should have full and proper guidance in the administration of the Aliens Order, we took advantage of the opportunity to put the matter right in a minority of cases which had not been properly registered in accordance with the law.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

Would my hon. and learned Friend not agree that such a consistent application of the law, as he called it, without using commonsense methods or considering the whole question of humanity is, in fact, bureaucracy?

Mr. Renton

That is a matter of opinion, but I would have hoped that the explanation which I have given on the first requirement that nationality has to be stated would have satisfied my hon. and gallant Friend. If my hon. and gallant Friend accepted the definition of nationality as being citizenship of a recognised State of independent status, I would have thought that he would have had a different view about it and would not have intervened as he did just now.

Both at Question Time on 28th January and again tonight two alternative suggestions have been made to me about registering Ukrainians in other ways than those I have mentioned. First, there was the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that they should be registered as Ukrainians with the letters G, P, or R added after their names, indicating German, Polish or Russian. Secondly, there was the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) that they should be registered as "Ukrainian refugees," which is what is done in France. I have considered both suggestions carefully; I regret that under the law as it stands at present I cannot accept either suggestion, but I can offer a ray of hope.

As I indicated in the debate on the renewal of the Aliens Order, which we had in the early part of the new Session of the new Parliament, we are considering the whole question of the registration of aliens with the police and these articles of the Aliens Order which govern the present position. We will consider those two suggestions made by my hon. Friends when we are considering this general question of the registration of aliens. It is a major exercise. We have to consult all the police forces and the other Government Departments in connection with it. Therefore, I cannot say anything more precise at the moment, but we will consider all the views which have been expressed in the debate when we are dealing with those parts of the Aliens Order.

Mr. Houghton

I am sorry to trouble the hon. and learned Gentleman, but another suggestion which I have heard deserved as being preferable to "uncertain" was "Stateless". Would the hon. and learned Gentleman offer an observation on that clasification as to whether it is permissible in these circumstances?

Mr. Renton

The expression "Stateless" has a very special significance in this context, and I do not think that that expression alone would give any satisfaction to the Ukrainians because it would merely place them in the same position as all the other Stateless people who are registered as Stateless. What they are obviously anxious to have is something distinctive, and they have something distinctive to the extent that they are described, as no other racial group is described, as being of uncertain nationality with the letter "U" added after their names. I am grateful for all suggestions, but with the greatest respect I do not think that that suggestion would give any satisfaction.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central raised some questions, which are necessarily hypothetical, about the position of the Ukrainians who are here in the event of war between the United Kingdom and Soviet Russia. I am glad that the hon. Member for Sowerby said that he could not speculate on such a thing, and I shall not give speculative answers to hypothetical questions. It is seldom wise for Ministers to deal with hypothetical questions if they can avoid doing so. That is a general principle which is well observed, but it is certainly most undesirable to make such answers against such a terrible background. The general nature of war and the security measures which it might demand are, I am sure, matters which hon. Members would not wish me to discuss in this debate.

In the event of any such emergency, the treatment of Ukrainians would be related to their real and known loyalties. I can say no more, but I say again that any Ukrainian who feels himself, however groundlessly, to be at risk by reason of any specific national registration, can avail himself of this ten-year-old concession and have himself registered as of uncertain nationality with the letter "U" after his name, if he so wishes, so that even that fear can be allayed.

In conclusion, I say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central and to other hon. Members whose moving speeches have been a great contribution to the debate, as well as to those many hon. Members who have written to me about this subject—I have had a great many letters in the last few weeks—that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is always mindful of the strong and understandable feelings of people of Ukrainian origin on the subject of their nationhood, which is the expression which has been used several times tonight, and their identity as a race, and also their community of feeling and distinctive traditions.

We respect them, and I hope that they will take comfort from the restatement of assurances which I have given, and from the explanation of the limited scope and purpose of the action recently taken to ensure that their status is correctly recorded in accordance with our present law.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Ten o'clock.