HL Deb 22 March 1906 vol 154 cc544-68

rose to call attention to the administration of the Aliens Act. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in calling attention to the administration of this Act I should like to remind the House that it was founded upon the Report of a Royal Commission presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford; that it was the principal measure of last session; that it was strongly, not to say bitterly, opposed in the other House; that it was carried by the closure; and that when it came up here, owing to circumstances which I need scarcely recall to the memory of the House, it was practically not debated at all; and, finally, I should like to point out that its administration depends very largely upon the views of the Home Secretary. I am not going to waste your Lordships' time in discussing the intentions of the Act, but I should like to insist upon the fact that very great pains were taken not to exclude any angels unawares, and every sort of precaution was adopted that refugees of the genuine type should not be excluded. I believe it is perfectly accurate to maintain that there has hardly been a case in which a genuine refugee has not been admitted. At any rate, there have been doubtful cases, and in each case the benefit of the doubt has been given on the side of the alien.

A very active campaign was conducted against this measure during its progress and after it became an Act, and a large number of allegations have been made against it, allegations which, as a matter of fact, have never been substantiated, and it is extremely difficult to reconcile the unfavourable opinions which have been expressed with regard to this Act, because there appears to be two views. One is the view that it is a grossly tyrannical measure which has excluded large numbers of deserving people from this country, and the other view is that it is such an extremely small and contemptible Act that it is hardly worth noticing at all. As a supporter of the former view, a Member of the other House who really ought to know better has distinguished himself by asserting a certain number of Russian deserters who were refused admission to this country, were returned to Russia, and were there executed.

I might point out that this is an extremely improbable assertion of itself, for, as everyone who knows Russia will admit, it is an extremely difficult task for anyone to get on board a Russian steamer without having proper papers, and therefore what happens is this: A Russian deserter almost invariably makes his way into Germany and embarks on a German steamer. It is from a German port that he arrives here, and it is obvious that if a deserter arrived in that way and was rejected he would return to Germany, and there would be no means of putting him to death, because there is no military convention between Russia and Germany. As, moreover, no sort of proof has ever been given with regard to this allegation, as it has further been denied by the Russian Government, and as the Foreign Office also professes entire ignorance on the subject, I really am inclined to think that I am perhaps paying too much honour to this Member of Parliament in alluding to his assertion at all.

Then, on the other hand as representing the other line of argument, we have the Daily News which has consistently poured contempt on the Act by showing how very few people have been affected by it in the sense of rejected aliens. I pass now to another organ—a paper called the Manchester Guardian—which has always been noted no less for its unrelenting hostility to the late Government than for its overpowering affection for aliens of all kinds, from Mad Mullahs downwards. This organ, recognising at once in the Aliens Act the lowest depths of political depravity, instituted an inquiry of its own into the working of the Act. I believe that this enterprising organ conducted a most painstaking inquiry, and at the end it was obliged to confess that the Act has been administered in a broadminded and even in a liberal spirit; and the Home Secretary himself has been compelled to admit that in some particulars at all events he has found it an extremely useful measure. If any further proof of the leniency of this Act were required it would be found in the fact that during the month of January only eighty-nine persons were refused admittance to this country, and owing to what I may call the extremely lenient and liberal character of the Act it will be readily admitted that these eighty-nine people must have been so undesirable in their nature that no civilised country would have tolerated their presence for a moment.

It is this liberal, lenient, and popular Act—for there is no doubt whatever as to its popularity in the country—whose chief defect appears to be that it does not go far enough, that the Home Secretary has set himself to emasculate, and this is easily performed by changing the object of one of the provisions of the Act and by altering one of the rules. I observe that the Home-Secretary, when challenged with having nullified the Act, pleaded in his defence that he had only altered one rule; just as a person who had a charge brought against him might excuse himself by saying he had "broken only one of the ten commandments." The alteration occurs with regard to Section 8, Subsection 2, which defines an immigrant ship as one which brings more than twenty alien passengers, "or such number as may be fixed by order of the Secretary of State."

When this Bill came up here last session I moved an Amendment to reduce the number from twenty to ten on the ground that possibly by the time the Act came into operation a Liberal Government might be in Office, and that it was, therefore, rather dangerous to entrust an unsympathetic Secretary of State with so much latitude. I therefore urged—and, of course, urged unsuccessfully—that it would be safer to reduce the number from twenty to ten. My noble friend Lord Belper, who was in charge of the Bill in this House, and who, naturally, would have nothing to do with my Amendment, because, however excellent it might have been, there was no time to carry it, replied to me as follows, showing that extreme and almost child-like confidence in his successor which one occasionally encounters amongst experienced Ministers, viz.— The Government were aware that if the number was rigidly fixed at twenty the provision in the Bill might be avoided by shipowners bringing in less than twenty aliens. That was the reason why special power was given to the Secretary of State to vary the number if found desirable. He did not entertain intense distrust of the Secretary of State in this matter. If I were of a conceited disposition I should be inclined to boast that on this occasion I had proved myself an absolutely correct prophet, or at any rate, far more so than my noble friend.

What happened? A Departmental Committee was formed for the purpose of making the rules in question; and, after a long and careful inquiry, the number was reduced from twenty to twelve, and I am informed that even this number of twelve was found to be too high, and that many opportunities were thereby afforded of evading the Act. I observed that only a fortnight ago the members of the London Immigration Board met at the Guildhall and unanimously agreed to recommend that the number should be reduced from twelve to five. The reply of the Home Secretary to that is to increase the number to twenty. In view of this fact I think it is quite clear that we are entitled to have the Report which I have alluded to—it cannot possibly be confidential, for there cannot be anything secret about it—and to know the reasons which have influenced the Secretary of State in making this important change.

So much with regard to the alteration of the rules. The other question to which I shall briefly refer is the action of the Home Secretary with reference to the circumstances under which the aliens are allowed to land. Clause 1 is the clause which deals with the power to prevent the landing of undesirable immigrants. Sub-section 3 reads as follows— But in the case of an immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on religious or political grounds leave to-land shall not be refused on the ground merely of want of means or the probability of his becoming a charge on the rates. I should like to explain that the machinery by which this Act is carried out consists of immigration officers and immigration boards. The immigration officers are under the control of the Home Office; the immigration boards are not. The immigration officer is really the important person, because he is the person who gives the order for admittance or rejection, and, if he refuses, then the board comes into play.

The action of the Home Secretary has; been as follows: He sent a letter of advice to the boards, over whom he has no control at all, as to how he considers the Act ought to be interpreted. To the immigration officers, who are under his control, he sent a letter of instructions, or, I think it is more correct to say, a letter containing orders, and they are to this effect: that in all cases in which immigrants coming from parts of the Continent which are in a disturbed condition claim that they are flying from persecution, they should have the benefit of the doubt when any doubt exists, and leave to land must be given. Now, supposing my noble friend behind me, the Duke of Bedford, as President of the Zoological Society, were to issue a letter of advice to the council suggesting that impecunious persons might, under certain conditions, be admitted into the gardens, and at the same time wrote to the men at the turn-stiles saying that everyone was to be allowed in who asserted that he had not got the necessary funds. That is what it comes to. Taking this view of the matter, the function of the Immigration Board becomes an absolute farce. The board does not come into play at all. The alien is to be admitted, according to the instructions given to the immigration officer, and therefore the board might, so far as I can see, almost as well not exist.

The principle of the clause, as it was intended to act, was that the alien had to prove that he was a refugee. Now, the onus of proof is thrown on the immigration officer, who before he can refuse admission has to prove that the would-be immigrant is not a refugee, and he naturally is perfectly incapable of proving anything of the kind. It is perfectly obvious that doubt must always exist. Considerable doubt must exist as to what countries may fairly be described as being in a disturbed condition. Turkey, for intance, might be described as in a permanently disturbed condition. The Balkan States can be described as being periodically in a disturbed condition. Austria-Hungary is in a temporarily disturbed condition. In Franco there is a disturbed condition arising through conflict between the State and the Church; and Russia may be said to be indefinitely disturbed. To realise the absurdity of the way in which the Act must work try to imagine, if you can, an impecunious Briton being permitted to land in the United States on the ground that he was a victim of religious or political persecution, and it then transpiring that he was a passive resister or a conscientious objector. On one of these guileless refugees was found a letter telling him to say he had been lying hid in a cellar, that he had seen a number of men butchered, but that he was to conceal the fact that the £5 on him was borrowed.

By the altering of this provision the Act has been rendered little better than a farce. I learn from a newspaper that over 1,000 aliens have landed in London during the last ten days, and that in not one single case was any objection made and not a single appeal taken to the Immigration Board. We stand, in short, almost exactly as we did before the Act was passed, and the only thing that remains of any value apparently is the deportation of aliens after they have been brought to justice. I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything more on the subject. All this talk about the sacred rights of asylum being violated is little better than mere rubbish. It is perfectly clear that there is no grievance of that kind at all. What the object of His Majesty's Government can be in encouraging large numbers of aliens to come to this country, when, according to their own statement, between 12,000,000 and 13,000,000 of English people are on the verge of starvation under the blessings of free trade, is beyond my comprehension. Neither can I see how effective action can be taken on my part against the majority of 300 in another place. But if this Act is nullified, let us be perfectly clear as to how it has happened, and who is responsible for it.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has taken the most unusual course in this House of confining his remarks entirely to the Motion of which he had given notice, and I shall hope to follow that admirable example. I should like to express my sympathy with one criticism he made of the Act itself, as to the. defects from which it undoubtedly suffers, owing to the fact that it received no amendment while in your Lordships' House. I am sure that he will agree with me that, under these circumstances, the Act has not reached that standard of perfection which we expect from an Act upon which your Lordships have exercised your power of revision. The noble Lord seemed to have been misled by the extravagances of the halfpenny Press, of which, I confess, I am not so great a student as he is. But with regard to the 1,000 aliens who, he says, have been landed in London during the last ten days, I should like to point out that he makes no reference to those who were transmigrants and were going on to other countries. The figures of the noble Lord are unofficial, and cannot be accepted as correct. As to the actual administration of the Act itself, I may point out that the Act came into operation on the 1st January, and it was necessary that certain rules and regulations should be made before that date. The regulations were drawn up in the Home Office, but the late Secretary of State left the Office without signing them and they were signed as they stood by my right hon. friend the present Secretary of State, who does not, I think, accept any responsibility with regard to them as they stood at that time. It is interesting to point out to your Lordships the full figures with regard to the refusals which took place under the rules and regulations sanctioned, though not technically signed, by Mr. Akers-Douglas. In addition to the eighty-nine refusals in the month of January there were only fifty refusals in the month of February, so that the total number of refusals under the Aliens Act, which we were told was going to exclude such large numbers of people from competition in the home market, only amounted to 139. If that was continued throughout the year it would not have amounted to anything like a large number. The figures with regard to March are not available, but, in consequence of certain religious festivals which occur at the early part of the month, it is probable that there will not be a large number of refusals owing to the number of Jews travelling being much smaller than in January and February.

With regard to the new regulations, they in no way interfere with what is considered by many people to be the most important part of the Act, the exclusion of those whom noble Lords on both sides of the House wish to see excluded, the criminal or diseased alien. Nothing in these regulations will interfere with their exclusion. There were three new regulations issued by the Secretary of State in addition to those which, as I have said, were drafted by Mr. Akers-Douglas. The first one had reference to the admission of the Press, and I think that on this matter, while there is any difficulty in getting at the facts, it is exceedingly valuable that we should, with the help of the Press, be able to know exactly what takes place.

Then, with regard to the second regulation, I might perhaps read to your Lordships part of the letter from the Secretary of State to the Immigration Board— The Act was passed for the purpose of checking the immigration of undesirable aliens. Parliament, in the judgment of the Secretary of State, never intended that in the administration for that object of the provisions of the Act they should be applied with a rigidity which excludes consideration as to whether refusal of leave to land would involve great personal hardship or suffering in the case of women or children. Again, the statements of a man claiming to be a political or religious refugee may be insufficient or inaccurate, yet he may be exposed to serious risk from political causes if he is forced to return. Though the Secretary of State recognises that the absence of corroborative evidence frequently makes it difficult for the board to come to a decision, he hopes that, having regard to the present disturbed condition of certain parts of the Continent, the benefit of the doubt, where any doubt exists, may be given in favour of any immigrants who allege that they are flying from religious or political persecution in such districts. I ask noble Lords opposite if they wish that the benefit of the doubt should not be given to those aliens who come here and say they are flying from religious or political persecution, and I should be glad to take the parallel case with regard to the Zoological Gardens. If the noble Duke who is President of the Zoological Society found that a number of children who had never had a chance of seeing the chance of enjoying a day's liberty, who came from the slums, and who the noble Duke knew on their return to their homes without having been admitted to the Zoological Gardens ran the risk of being severely beaten or badly treated—in those circumstances there is no member of your Lordships' House who would not appove of the action of the noble Duke in allowing them to enter the gardens. The noble Lord also referred to the statements which were made by Mr. Rothschild. Mr. Rothschild is no supporter of His Majesty's Government, and I think the with Mr. Rothschild himself.

The third regulation to which I have to draw attention raised the number of aliens from twelve to twenty. Twenty is the number in the Act itself. I do not know that it is necessary for any member of His Majesty's Government to defend the selection of that number by the late Secretary of State. Twenty was the number in the Act, and I think I may safely leave the defence of that number to the noble Lord my predecessor who is, I am glad to see, in the House this afternoon. But I should like to say that one reason which I believe actuated the Secretary of State in raising the number from twelve to twenty, was to relieve the pressure on the immigrant ports. The vast majority of the ports in this country have not got immigration boards, and ships which came to non-immigrant ports having fewer than twelve immigrants of course passed in freely. If they had more they were subject to this Act, and had to go round to one of the ports at which the machinery established under this Act was in existence. After only two months experience of this Act only two Office found that more than one case of hardship had arisen, and there were real reasons why the number should be altered.

I will give your Lordships two instances of the way in which this Act did press hardly on foreigners coming into this country. There was the case of the French onion sellers who arrived at a non-immigrant port. As there were more than twelve of them on board the ship there was a great deal of difficulty as to their admission to this country to carry on a trade to which none of us have any objection at all. There was another case in which a number of Scandinavian sailors came to this country in order that they might join certain ships which were lying in nonimmigrant ports. Under the order it would have been impossible for them to join their ships unless they had gone round to one of the Tyneside ports and travelled from there by train to the port where the ships were lying which they were to join. Under these circumstances, I do not think that it is very easy to blame the Secretary of State for doing what after all is only a matter of detail and not one of principle, and fixing the number at twenty, which His Majesty's late Government themselves thought should be the number necessary to make a ship an immigrant ship. In conclusion, I only desire to quote to your Lordships a statement that was made in the House of Commons the other day by the Solicitor-General in the late Government. Sir E. Carson said— So far as he could see there was no justice in the allegation that the rules and recommendations of the right hon. Gentleman had in any way interfered with the Act of Parliament. Therefore, the only matter in which there might be ground for criticism seemed to be taken away if they looked at the thing fairly and honestly, because all that the Home Secretary had done was to bring to the minds of the immigration officers a sense of their duty. As the right hon. Gentleman was going to give the Act fair play it was only right that he should have a fair chance. I am quite unable to add anything to those admirable sentiments of Sir Edward Carson.


My Lords, I confess I do not think this matter ought to be treated in the somewhat light manner in which it has been treated. If the Secretary of State has issued the directions that I understand he has issued, I think it is a most serious and important question, and one of far greater importance than the particular matter with which we are dealing, be- cause if it was once supposed that an Act of Parliament deliberately passed by the Legislature could be set aside by indirect means at the direction of the Secretary of State, the mischief of such a proposition would extend far beyond the particular controversy we are now engaged upon. I understand that what the Secretary of State said was this— I have issued to all the immigration officers instructions that in all cases in which immigrants coming from ports of the Continent which are at present in a disturbed condition, allege that they are flying from religious or political persecution, the benefit of the doubt, where any doubt exists as to the truth of the allegation, must be allowed and leave to land must be given. I venture to say that the action of the Home Secretary is contrary to the Act of Parliament. The Statute itself contains an express direction. I do not think there is any doubt what the language can mean. Happily it is not a question of doubtful law; it is the ordinary application of the English language, and I venture to think that the words in the Act are not susceptible of doubt.

After the general proposition that an undesirable alien shall not be permitted to land, the statute proceeds thus— But in the case of an immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on religious or political grounds.— leave to land shall not be refused. The Act of Parliament contains an express direction that the intending immigrant shall "prove" that he is seeking admission solely to avoid persecution or punishment on political or religious-grounds. The good sense of that is obvious enough. What can the immigration officer know about the facts, and whether or not a man is flying from persecution? Of course, if the man offers no proof it can always be said that the matter is in doubt, and, according to the Secretary of State's instructions to his subordinates, leave to land must be given.

I do not know what the facts were that were put before my very distinguished and learned friend Sir Edward Carson, but it is astonishing to me that a lawyer of his eminence should say that the express direction of the statute was satisfied by a mere allegation that the man was flying from persecution; and I can only suppose that a particular and partial view had been placed before my learned friend when he made his statement in another place. The whole subject is one of a far more serious character than appears to be imagined. The question here is whether the Secretary of State has taken upon himself to disobey the law; whether a state of law has been created by the Secretary of State's directing persons under his command to disobey the Act of Parliament. I have not the least desire to treat harshly any awkward phrase, and I sympathise with the position of a Gentleman like the present Secretary of State for the Home Department who is not himself a lawyer, and must more or less rely upon the advice given to him; but I want to know if the words I have quoted accurately state the directions he has given to his subordinates. If so, I should like to know from any lawyer whether he can reconcile these two things; and, if he cannot, it appears to me that respect for the law has not been observed.

The action of the Home Secretary in directing the immigration officers under his control deliberately to disobey the Act of Parliament in this way seems to me a much more serious and grievous infraction of the law than the slight inadvertence in connection with the whipping of the Chinese in South Africa of which we have heard so much during the last twenty-four hours. I speak always with reserve on such a subject. I have not got the words of the directions to the immigration officers. I only gather what they were from a report, which may not be accurate, of a statement in the other House of Parliament; but, if the words are as reported, I say, as a lawyer, that there cannot be the slightest doubt that the directions so given are contrary to the Act of Parliament and constitute an outrage upon the ordinary observance of the law.


My Lords, if I desired to give a merely debating reply to the noble and learned Earl who has just addressed your Lordships I might be content with pointing out to him that it is highly improbable that the Solicitor-General of the very Government of which he himself was so great an ornament should have committed himself in his place in Parliament to the approval of the action of the Home Secretary of the present Government without adequate and full consideration. But, my Lords, I feel that it would be hardly respectful on my part to the noble and learned Earl if I were to confine myself to what I have called a merely debating answer. Therefore I propose to say a few words upon the general question which has been brought forward by my noble friend opposite, and I shall allude more particularly to what has fallen from the noble and learned Earl.

The Home Secretary has, in the first place, been accused of gross inconsistency. He has been told that whereas upon one of the earliest days on which Parliament met he spoke favourably of the operation of this Act, a very short time after, under the pressure, it was alleged, of excited and fiery speeches made outside and articles written in newspapers, ho altered his position and climbed down from what he had said before. In that matter I desire to say—and it is my duty, I think, to allude to this part of the question—that nothing could possibly be more unfair than that charge against the Home Secretary, because the portion of the Bill of which he spoke favourably was not the portion which has been discussed in your Lordships' House to-night. and which was discussed subsequently in the House of Commons, but another clause of the Bill, namely, Section 3, which is generally known as the "expulsion of undesirable aliens clause," which everyone will agree is a most desirable and excellent clause.

I feel how almost absurd it is for me, following the noble and learned Earl, to allude to a legal issue, but if so humble a person as a chairman of quarter sessions may be allowed to refer to a legal matter, I may say that I have before now had before me as prisoners foreigners who had committed a long series of skilful crimes, and I unhesitatingly say that I have long wished that legislation of this kind had been passed so that a Judge or chairman of quarter sessions might be able to add to an ordinary sentence a sentence of expulsion or deportation. It was that portion of the Act to which the Home Secretary was alluding, and I hope that, whatever difference of opinion there may be with regard to the operation of the rest of this Act, on the value of that clause we are all agreed.

But in reality it is not that clause which has excited the feeling that has caused this debate. It is the principal clause of the Act—Clause 1—and more particularly that clause which relates to what is popularly called the right of asylum. It is not, perhaps, for me, not having been then a Member of your Lordships' House, to express an opinion, but I do think it was a matter of regret that last year the Amendments which I understand were actually placed upon the Table by the Members of the then Government were not proceeded with, because it would have given an opportunity to this House, in Committee, to consider the various points that had been raised. Nobody, I think, whatever his opinion may be on the general question, and the noble Lord who brought forward this matter did not go beyond general views, can deny that the wording of this Act is in many respects most unfortunate. If ever there was a case where the power of your Lordships' House as a chamber of revision over the work of the House of Commons might have been wisely and judiciously exercised, this was one which particularly called for such action on your part. However, it is too late to lament over that; but, nevertheless, we must bear this in mind, that the Home Office have been called upon to administer an exceedingly difficult Act of Parliament dealing with a most delicate subject and one full of legal pitfalls.

I am sure no Member of your Lordships' House, whatever his opinion may be, will deny that the right of political asylum is a matter to be spoken of with the greatest respect, to be dealt with with the greatest care, and not to be treated in any manner cavalierly. One criticism of my noble friend's speech would be, I think, that he treated this question a little too cavalierly and lightly, that he did not quite sufficiently realise the depth of feeling and thorough honesty which I claim for those who fought hard to defend what we believed, and what we believe now, to be one of the most cherished institutions of this country—the right of asylum. I do not hesitate to say that in your Lordships' House, because this right has been largely the creation of your Lordships' House. If you were to go back to such chapters of our history as the asylum which was given to Protestant refugees, to the Huguenots and others who came at different times to this country, the part played by your Lordships' House would bear comparison to that of any other body in the country, and therefore I claim that this House is just as much the guardian of this valuable and historic right of asylum which we have inherited as the House of Commons itself. The noble and learned Earl has asked that the Government should inform him as to what really has been the action of the Home Secretary in this matter.


The actual language of the directions to the immigration officers.


The distinction is perfectly clear, if I may say so, between the position of the Home Secretary with reference to the immigration officers in the ports, who are practically his own officers, and the immigration boards. With regard to the first, I am advised that the power of the Home Secretary is undoubted to give such directions as he has given, and those directions to the immigration officers are— In all cases in which immigrants coming from parts of the Continent which are at present in a disturbed condition allege that they are flying from political or religious persecution, the benefit of the doubt, where any doubt exists, as to the truth of the allegation, will be allowed and leave to land will be given. Those are the directions to the immigration officers. With regard to the immigration boards, the language of the Home Secretary is that of advice only. I am quite willing to communicate the full text if necessary, though in regard to that I understand from the noble and learned Earl that he would take no objection. But in this connection I am convinced, and I feel here that I may appeal to the noble Earl as one of the greatest legal authorities in this country, that if he will look at the use of the word "prove" in the proviso to Section 1 he will acknowledge that the peculiar use of that word in that direction opens up a great vista of legal difficulties. In terms the Act requires the alien immigrant to prove that he is a refugee. Obviously this would mean strict legal proof. Under the circumstances this would be impossible. Neither the immigration officer nor the immigration board is a court. They have no power to administer an oath, so obviously the proof required cannot be legal proof in the strict sense of the term. I urged on the Government last year in another place that these courts should be open courts, and conducted as Courts of Law. As a matter of fact, I foresaw the difficulties which would arise, and I placed an Amendment on the Paper in which I took the actual words of the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879, which was passed by the noble and learned Earl and his colleagues, and under which all Petty Sessional courts are open courts and held in public places. I desired to assimilate the functions and jurisdiction of these courts of immigration. If that Amendment had been adopted I venture to think that none of these difficulties would have arisen. Immigrant ships arrive at all hours, and the examinations often taken place before the immigration officers in the dark, and on board ship, and in estimating what is meant by proof the conditions under which the examination is conducted must be taken into account.

The only possible evidence available is the statement of the alien, taken in conjunction with the probabilities of the case. If an alien states that he is a political refugee, and if it appears from the paper which he fills up and signs that he comes from a disturbed part of the Continent, the presumption is that his statement is correct, and the onus of proof is shifted, as the onus of proof is so often shifted in legal matters. The state of certain parts of Russia is a matter of common knowledge. The direction of the Home Secretary that an alien alleging himself to be a refugee is to have the benefit of the doubt is, I may also point out, confined to aliens who apparently come from disturbed parts of Europe, and therefore it would have no application to an alien alleging himself to be a Russian, but arriving in England from a place where there is no disturbance. The statement has been made that in this matter the Home Secretary has not acted in a statesmanlike or judicial manner, but according to the dictates of his inner conscience. Nothing could be further from the mind or the intention of the Home Secretary, and I claim that as he has received in Parliament approbation of his action from the Solicitor-General of the late Government, we stand on exceedingly good ground even when we have to meet so formidable an antagonist as the noble and learned Earl opposite.

I wish that I could stop my argument at the point that I have reached, but I would not be doing my duty, as representing the Foreign Office in this House, if I attempted to conceal from your Lordships that there is another aspect of this question. The Home Secretary was exposed, before he issued these amended regulations, to the attacks of those who suggested that he was indifferent to the right of asylum, and to the attacks of those who sympathised especially with all those complicated movements which at this moment are disturbing so many parts of the world. But there is another aspect of this question and quite as serious a one. I remember the late Sir William Harcourt used to be very fond of laughing at what he called grandmotherly legislation—the covering of the Statute Books with unnecessary laws which did no good and which often worked out in directions which no one expected, and created difficulties which no one foresaw. If I had to criticise this Act again I should renew the criticism I ventured to make upon it last year. This Act is creating difficulties of quite a different kind from those we have so far heard of, and it would not be right of me to leave entirely the brunt of the attack which has come from the other side to the defence of my noble friend who represents the Home Office, because there is a Foreign Office side to this question.

I alluded just now to the fact that I thought it unfortunate that the Amendments which your Lordships placed on the Paper were never brought forward. I remember that when the Bill was discussed on Second Reading Lord Spencer, whose absence and its cause we all so deeply regret, asked what was the real meaning of sub-section (a) of section 1. And that really is the Act, or rather it is the fighting part of the Act around which all these controversies have arisen. We pressed for an explanation as to what was meant by the words— A person having the means decently to support himself and his family. If a man arrived whose arms were strong, whose legs were strong, whose digestion was good, whose head was clear, and who happened not to have £5 in his pocket, was that man, we asked, to be rejected on the ground that he had not the means to decently support himself? And was a man of doubtful health and whose constitution was undermined to be admitted merely because he had borrowed £5 from someone? We were unable to get an answer to those questions. But when the Bill was discussed in your Lordships' House the Government said that under those circumstances the man would not be excluded. My noble friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty expressed the same doubts which Mr. Asquith and Sir Charles Dilke have expressed in the House of Commons. He said he hoped there would be an opportunity of clearing the matter up in Committee, and no doubt it might have been cleared up in Committee, but your Lordships never had the opportunity. Owing to words of such dangerous legal laxity being used, I am sorry to say that troubles have arisen frequently, and are likely, I am afraid, to recur, quite apart from the question of Russian refugees or persons arriving in a verminous state. They are arising at these ports in regard to persons whom I am perfectly certain the late Government never intended to be annoyed under this Act.

I do not for a moment insinuate that any of these evil results came within the minds of noble Lords opposite; but although the Act has been in operation only a few weeks the Foreign Office continues to receive a great number of complaints in regard to the inequalities and the injustices, and, indeed, in some cases almost the cruelties, which arise in some instances under the Act. We have had complaints from Norway in regard to fishermen, whalers, workmen and others who come to this country on temporary jobs, and into whose occupation uncertainty has been introduced. We have had complaints also from Norway in regard to fish packers and others engaged in industries which bring them temporarily to this country, and bring them very often with not a penny in their pockets, and the immigration board have considered it their duty to subject them to all the inconveniences of examination and the delays under the Act. We had the case, to which publicity has been given in the newspapers, of ship-wrecked Americans. Ship-wrecked men have in all ages been the special object of protection; but it was found to be the duty of the immigration board to deal in an exceedingly harsh manner with these Americans, and the American Consul had to intervene to get them out of durance vile and had to guarantee a certain sum of money out of his own pocket before the men were released. Then there was the case of the French onion dealers.

I am not here to pass censure on the immigration boards. They have done their very best to administer the Act judiciously, fairly, and in a sympathetic spirit, but they are in an unfortunate position. They are not a court of law and have none of the machinery which a court of law has to extract evidence and to test it. They have not, like petty sessions, an experienced chairman and clerk to advise them. Therefore I do not attack them if, in administering the Act, they have been, here and there, in pursuance of the Act, the unintentional means of inflicting hardship on people; but that hardship has been inflicted there can be no doubt. We are in the region of the unexpected. We at the Foreign Office have no security from day to day that we shall not have complaints, unofficial complaints as yet, but nevertheless complaints which cause discontent, and which, if they are allowed to go on, may in some cases in the end cause serious trouble.

There was one particularly touching and painful case. It was the case in January in which two French girls of good position, belonging to families in France perfectly well known, were concerned. They were returning to England, one of them as a governess in a school and the other as a pupil, and they were subjected to such delays and annoyances at Folkstone—they were detained on the boat, then bundled on shore to be examined—that they were almost wild with terror, and the younger girl, twelve years of age, arrived in London in a condition almost dying with cold and hunger. I do not want to exaggerate, but owing to the unexpected operation of this Act of Parliament, which was placed on the Statute Book in a desperate hurry, we live at the Foreign Office from day to day in fear that we may have fresh additions to these complaints. Therefore, I do earnestly pray that my noble friend, who has himself taken an honourable part in diplomacy in former days, and other noble Lords will realise our difficulties, and not regard this as a high-handed attempt by the Home Secretary to override an Act of Parliament.

I feel that we have a full right to call upon noble Lords opposite to give us their assistance, because they themselves were parties to placing upon the Statute Book this Act of Parliament, not in precisely that accurate language, or in that final condition, which they themselves desired. I have to say, in conclusion, with regard to that aspect of the question which more particularly refers to the office I have the honour to represent in this House, that in view of the cases—I have not desired to take up too much of your Lordships' time by referring to others—which I have alluded to, and the fear we have that others like them may arise, it is my duty not to conceal from the House that if, under the new rules and practice introduced by the Home Office, it is not found possible to escape the inconvenience and the complicated controversies which arose immediately on the Act coming into operation, it may become necessary, in the interests of justice and of our good relations with foreign countries, to ask for an Amendment of the Act; and I make that statement with the full authority of the Secretary of State.


My Lords, the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has given us a most interesting speech about the weather in January, shipwrecked mariners and onion sellers, in whom he appears to be very much interested. But what he said had really nothing whatever to do with the speech of my noble friend, who introduced this subject this evening, and very little to do with the speech of the noble and learned Earl the late Lord Chancellor. My noble friend who spoke first for the Government, and the noble Lord who has just sat down, took a somewhat unusual course in their statement of the Government's case this evening. They have both alluded at great length to things which happened in the other House of Parliament. Your Lordships are generally tolerant, I know, as to what speakers say, and no one has enjoyed that tolerance more than I have; but if your Lordships have permitted noble Lords opposite to refer to what was said by Sir Edward Carson in the other House of Parliament, I would ask you to allow me to remind you under what circumstances his statement was made.

The subject came on in the House of Commons, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department made exactly the same defence as was made by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp. He talked about the immigration boards, but said not one word about the immigration officers. That is our whole case. We have no objection to the letter addressed to the immigration boards. We have the strongest possible objection to the instructions issued to the immigration officers; and my learned friend Sir Edward Carson, as I understand, got up after the speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department and said that he thought his course had been perfectly correct. That was agreed, Nobody objects to what has been written by the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the immigration boards.

My noble and learned friend behind me Lord Halsbury, put a legal Question which I think merits an Answer from some legal Member of His Majesty's Government. I say this in no disparaging spirit of the noble Lord. Can you tell us straight that in your opinion the word "must," which occurs in the instructions to the immigration officers, is not contrary to the spirit of the Act of Parliament, which placed the onus of proof on the immigrant? That is the keynote of our contention, and that Question has not been answered by any legal Member of your Lordships' House, though there are legal Members opposite both in the Government and supporting the Government. I do not wish to say any more in enforcing that point. Is the word "must" in strict conformity with the Act of Parliament?


The word "must" does not occur anywhere in the Order.


I am extremely glad to hear it; but it occurs twice in the Home Secretary's Answer given in the House of Commons.


I read the actual document to the House just now. The word "must" is not in it. The words are "will be allowed."


Is there really very much difference? Where any doubt exists as to the truth of the allegation, leave to land "will" be given to the immigrant. The Secretary of State says to his subordinates that leave will be given. It is exactly the same thing. I am much obliged to noble Lords opposite for their correction, and I repeat the Question which has been put to them by the noble and learned Earl behind me. The concluding remarks of the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs contained an announcement, upon the obtaining of which I congratulate my noble friend behind me. The noble Lord suggested that it may be necessary to amend this Act. I wonder if he means, so far as this particular point is concerned, to repeal it. It is because we have been suspecting that the Government have all along intended to repeal it, but that in this particular case they have not taken the course of introducing a repealing Act, but have altered the regulations, that we have felt it right to make a solemn protest against what has been done. I hope we shall have a straight answer to the legal point raised by my noble and learned friend behind me.


My Lords, I should have had the greatest pleasure in rising immediately after the noble and learned Earl, who asked a legal Question, had I had an opportunity of considering this point more fully. In point of fact, I had no notice that this legal Question was going to be brought forward, and I do not think it is possible or right for me, after hearing words read out from instructions that I have never seen, in reference to an Act which I do not know by heart, to offer a legal opinion on the merits of these matters. I shall, however, have the greatest pleasure in giving such opinion after I have had an opportunity of looking into them.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, of course the House will wait with respect and anxious patience to hear his interpretation of the word "prove." I merely rise to ask one or two Questions with regard to matters of fact which I do not think have been answered. A few moments ago, Lord Beauchamp, and, I think, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, both said that the word "must" was not used in Mr. Gladstone's instructions to the immigration officers. I have in my hand a copy, verified by Mr. Gladstone's private secretary, of the words he used in the debate, and they run as follows— Finally, I have issued to all the immigration officers instructions that in all cases in which immigrants coming from ports of the Continent which are at present in a disturbed condition allege that they are flying from religious or political persecution, and if there is a doubt, where any doubt exists as to the truth of the allegation it must be allowed, and leave to land must be given. Therefore, my Lords, there is no doubt whatever that Mr. Gladstone's order in that respect to the immigration officers was most peremptory. I wish to ask Lord Beauchamp whether he will lay on the Table the Report of the Committee. All that has been said to-night by way of explanation of this alteration is that it was made owing to a difficulty with some onion sellers and certain Scandinavian seamen who were going to join their ships


I did not say that at all. On the contrary, I said that that part of my observations was entirely opening up a different chapter from that which had led to the alteration. I pointed out that Mr. Gladstone in another place had had to reply to attacks directed mainly by friends of these immigrants who claimed to be political refugees, and when I brought forward these other cases I was putting before your Lordships a chapter of events which I myself said was quite different.


I accept the explanation. In that case we have had no reason given to us why the number was changed from twelve to twenty.


That was stated by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp.


Then it was Lord Beauchamp who spoke about the onion sellers and the Scandinavian seamen.


No; I referred to them.


Lord Beauchamp, so far, has given us no other reason except that of these unfortunate men. What we want to know is the reason why the number was changed to twenty. We want to see the documents and the advice which Mr. Gladstone received when he made that change, because, whatever may have been his reasons, and however good they may have been, the result has been most unfortunate. The Act is now made absolutely inoperative by the increase of the number to twenty. I shall be very glad to know if we are to have that Report.


My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this discussion for more than a few minutes, but there were some remarks made by the noble Earl opposite to which I cannot help referring. I am not at all surprised that the noble Earl should object on this occasion to references to what passed in the House of Commons, because no doubt the speech of Sir Edward Carson is an extremely awkward one for those who take the same line as the noble Earl. There may be some irregularities in these allusions, though they are constantly made in this House. It is the practice, when these things have passed into the pages of Hansard, constantly to allude to them. I think it would be impossible to carry on debates in both Houses of Parliament on the strict rule that neither House should refer to proceedings which had taken place in the other.

I say it with all respect, but I do not think the noble Earl quite gave a fair account of what Sir Edward Carson said. We laymen are placed in a position of great difficulty when we find such eminent lawyers as the late Lord-Chancellor and the late Solicitor-General taking entirely different views of this subject. I find, on reference to Hansard, that Sir Edward Carson in the debate said that when a Question was put on the matter to the Home Secretary on the previous night he, from only a cursory examination, formed the opinion that the right hon. Gentleman was, by the powers conferred upon him, interfering with the Statute passed in the previous session; but that having heard the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman he found that he had come to an absolutely erroneous conclusion in that respect. It is therefore obvious that Sir Edward Carson had considered the subject very carefully, and felt himself bound to admit that he had, in the first instance, formed a judgment he now believed to be erroneous. The noble Earl said that Sir Edward Carson made no allusion to the circular issued to the immigation officers. But Sir Edward's language on this point was very remarkable. He said— The Home Secretary had told the immigration officers that in the cases in which they were in any doubt as to whether an alien was a political or a religious refugee, they ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. He (Sir Edward Carson) himself would have thought that that was the duty of the immigration officers without any instructions whatever. That was an ordinary rule in the administration of Acts of Parliament. That is a pretty strong opinion upon the very point which the noble Earl seemed to think Sir Edward Carson had given no opinion at all. I therefore venture to say that whatever weight we are to give to the opinion of the late Solicitor-General, we are entitled to claim him as an undoubted witness in favour of the legal correctness of the conduct of my right hon. friend, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, in the matter.


I should like to press for a Reply to my Question as to the production of the Report. Are we to have the Report?


No. The Home Secretary in another place has already refused, on principle, to lay on the Table a confidential document from a Committee of the Department. He has, however, laid on the Table the rules and orders and also a memorandum on the working of the Act, which contains the gist of the Committee's Report. The Report itself will not be laid, largely because it contains certain references to salary to be paid to people and other matters of that kind.


Then how are we to learn the reasons which induced the Secretary of State to change his mind?


I have done my best to state those reasons to the House to-night.

House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.