HL Deb 02 December 1908 vol 197 cc1412-8

rose "to call attention to the administration of the Aliens Act; and to move for Papers." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have not placed this notice on the Paper with the intention of in any way raising the policy of the Aliens Act, or troubling your Lordships with any lengthy observations upon the general question of whether or not we should exclude aliens from this country. I rather wish to take the view that the Act is on the Statute-book, and that it is one of the few great Acts of their predecessors which His Majesty's Government are not busily attempting to modify by new legislation. I therefore accept the Act as a starting point. I do not desire in any way to go into its merits. At the same time I am sure noble Lords opposite will allow me to say that a new theory has been imported into the administration of this country during the last few years. I do not think the Home Office were the originators of it. I think the Irish Office can claim that distinction. But a new idea seems to be abroad that it is the duty of the Government not to administer Acts as they find them, but in a way as favourable as possible to their own personal opinions, even though it may be contrary to the intentions of Parliament. That is what has taken place undoubtedly in the case of the Aliens Act. In fact, by its administration it has been turned into a farce.

May I, very briefly, remind your Lordships of what is, after all, the salient point in the working of the Act? One of its most important clauses defined an immigrant ship—and the Act applies to no ship that is not an immigrant ship—as a ship arriving with twenty steerage passengers or such smaller number as the Secretary of State for the Home Department should determine. Inquiries made between the passing of the Act and the coming into office of the present Administration evidently convinced the Secretary of State for the time that twenty was too large a number if the Act was to be made effective, and twelve was therefore substituted. That was in December, 1905; but in March of the following year the present Home Secretary changed the number again to twenty. Thus all that the most criminal or most diseased alien has got to do is to wait in one of the large ports abroad and keep his eye steadily glued on vessels leaving for England, and when he finds a ship leaving with only eighteen steerage passengers he can join it, knowing that the Act would be unable to keep him out of this country. The result has been that the traffic has been regularly organised, and whereas the sheep, as I may describe the desirable aliens according to the Act, are fully inspected by medical and immigration officers, the goats—those aliens whom it is known are unlikely to pass such inspection— are sent over to this country in batches of nineteen or less, and in that case the medical officer makes a merely formal examination of them, and there is absolutely no power of rejection.

According to the latest Return, 61,758 aliens arrived in this country last year, a decrease of 2,555 as compared with the total for 1906. Owing to the fact that 20,564 arrived in non-immigrant vessels, the number inspected was 41,194, a decrease of 3,089 as compared with the number inspected in the previous year. Of 6,143 passengers who arrived in London only 2,354 were inspected, more than one- half of the total number having arrived in non-immigrant ships. The result must be that large numbers of aliens are coming in whom the Act was intended to exclude and who ought to be excluded in the interests of the community.

Two cases will show how the Act is working. The first was the well-known case of twenty-six German gipsies who, having been rejected at Hartlepool, left, and, dividing themselves into two parties of fourteen and twelve respectively, landed at Leith about two years ago. The Secretary of State, when questioned on the subject in the House of Commons, pointed out that the objectionable practice on the part of shipowners of dividing a party in order to secure entry was contrary to the spirit of the Act, and as regards the ships of the firm concerned, the Secretary of State cut down the number from twenty to two, and claimed that his action in that case prevented any further entry of undesirables. Those twenty-six persons, who had been stamped by the officers at Hartlepool as undesirables, roamed about the country, causing a nuisance in many places and putting the local authorities to considerable expense. In Cheshire it was found necessary to tell of? 159 policemen for special duty in regard to aliens who had been allowed to land before the Home Secretary's Special Order was issued. The country has been saddled with the presence of these aliens, who could and should have been kept out if the Act had been carried out in a proper spirit, and twelve had been allowed to remain the number of steerage passengers constituting a vessel an immigrant ship. The second case is known as the Hull case, and in that instance four Russian-Jew immigrants who had been refused permission to land were promptly landed from a non-immigrant ship. The Home Secretary stated that he had little doubt that such a practice was carried on in a, systematic way at Hull, and he told us that it was engaging his attention. So far as we know, it is still engaging his attention, and presumably this infamous practice still remains possible.

The only remedy is to cut down the number of steerage passengers who constitute the vessel carrying them an immigrant ship, and render the passengers subject to inspection in accordance with the Act. In regard to the Leith case, the Secretary of State claimed that by cutting down the number from twenty to two any further entry of these undesirables has been prevented; and I submit that there is no reason for the Government refusing to adopt a similar procedure in all the ports in the kingdom to which this Act applies.

Moved, "That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the administration of the Aliens Act."—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, the noble Earl has directed attention to one feature in the administration of the Aliens Act, and to one alone. There is, however, another feature in connection with which, I hope, he thinks His Majesty's Government does deserve some credit. I allude to that part of the Act which has reference to the deportation of aliens whose expulsion has been recommended by various Courts of justice throughout the country. I hope the noble Earl will kindly look at the Reports which have been laid on the Table of your Lordships' House, and I am sure he will be satisfied with the action taken by the Home Office in that regard. Admittedly, prevention is better than cure; but if aliens want to enter this country, it is possible for them to find more than one way of evading the Act. Take, for instance, the case of first-class passengers. First-class passengers can enter without let or hindrance, for the provisions in the Aliens Act apply only to steerage passengers. I cannot help being struck by the fact that the noble Earl has mentioned the cases of only thirty undesirable people having come into the country during the period of two years and nine months that the Act has been in force. With regard to the case of the German gipsies, I would point out that there is no immigration officer or medical inspector at Hartlepool, because it is not an immigration port, and therefore those gipsies could not have been stamped there as undesirables. But supposing the course recommended by the noble Earl had been taken and the number of passengers reduced from twenty to twelve, it would still have been possible for those gipsies to have divided themselves into three parties instead of two and thus to have evaded the Act. It is perfectly true that the Secretary of State made an order reducing the number to two in the case of a particular line of steamers, and I think the action of my right hon. friend in that case shows that it is within the power, and that it is the desire of the Secretary of State to prevent such aliens from coming into this country. I am informed that these gipsies to whom the noble Earl referred have all since left the country. In the case of the systematic importation of destitute alien to Hull from a particular port abroad on a particular line of ships, the Home Secretary has been enabled to take such steps as have led to the cessation of that traffic. The fact is that the machinery of this Act, with its constant statistics which are always coming to the notice of the Home Office, enables the Secretary of State to keep in touch with the constantly varying features of this alien traffic, and to strike whenever any necessity is really shown. I think we may fairly claim, on behalf of the Government, that the Home Secretary has exercised his powers fairly and fully, and, I hope, to the entire satisfaction of the two Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, as far as I understood the speech of my noble friend who initiated this discussion the two specific cases that he raised were given as instances, and not as in any sense a representation of what is really happening. The noble Earl the Lord Steward has not, I venture to say, given any reason why the Home Office regulation should not have fixed, if not two, at any rate twelve, as the number under the clause in question. I find, from a perusal of the figures, that in certain ports of the kingdom the proportion of immigrants who come in in non-immigrant ships is larger than it was, and that in some cases there are actually more immigrants coming in in non-immigrant ships than in immigrant ships. The Home Office have only to alter the number in order to turn these nonimmigrant ships into immigrant ships and thus have these people investigated. There is, too, a distinct increase in the number of aliens to whom poor law relief has been granted, and in particular there is a large proportionate increase in the number of aliens of unsound mind who pass through the hands of the Poor Law authorities. Are not those the kind of undesirable aliens for instance of whose entry the Lord Steward asked? I cannot help thinking that at this particular time, when unemployment is so serious a question that His Majesty's Government are driven to adopt special measures to deal with it, the Government have at least one remedy for that evil to their hand, for they can, by a stroke of the pen, render ships which are non-immigrant ships, whose undesirable aliens are not properly investigated, immigrant ships, whose passengers could be investigated. It might be that you would not thereby keep out a great many more, but perhaps you would. It is a mere matter of administration; and surely His Majesty's Government might try it. It does not conflict with any principle, but is, as I have said, merely a question of altering the number by a stroke of the pen; and I venture to think the noble Earl has given no reason why, in the present state of affairs, the Government should not take this very simple and obvious step. It might do some good, and obviously it could not do any harm.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl who represents the Home Office may very fairly take credit for the manner in which the Act has been used for what always seemed to me one of its most valuable objects—the expulsion of undesirable people who had settled in this country. With regard to the turning back of such persons when attempting to land on these shores, I think my two noble friends have shown that there is reason to suppose that a little more vigilance is required than has yet been exercised. It is, of course, true that many people disliked the Aliens Act and were doubtful as to the wisdom of any measure of the kind. But, now that it is on the Statute-book, it seems to me obvious that it should be administered in such a way as to make it really effectual for the purpose for which it was designed. And, at this moment, there does seem to be something almost farcical in the way in which the Act is put into operation. You have a state of things under which the same individual can be turned back if he happens to form one of a party of twenty-one persons, but cannot be turned back if he happens to form one of a party of nineteen. And then, again, as I understand it, the same ship becomes an immigrant ship if she happens to have twenty steerage passengers, whereas she ceases to be an immigrant ship if, on the next voyage, she has only fourteen or fifteen. I do not say it is very easy to deal with these points, but I do think that just now, in particular, the matter should be watched, because, obviously, it is not beyond the power of these people, and of those who endeavour to land them in this country, so to organise the traffic that they will altogether elude the meshes of the Aliens Act. I do not know that we can take the matter further this evening. I would only express my hope that the evidence that has been produced will be carefully considered by the Home Office, and that whatever can be done to meet this difficulty will be done.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.