HL Deb 19 July 1916 vol 22 cc777-82

LORD ST. DAVIDS had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have now come to a decision as to the internment of Germans (whether naturalised or not) who have one or more sons actually serving with the German Armies.

No member of the Government being on the Front Ministerial Bench, there was a delay pending the arrival of the Minister who was to reply to Lord St. Davids.

The House having been kept waiting for eight minutes,

THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN said: My Lords, we were told to come here at half-past three this afternoon, and I am informed at the Table that it is not usual, when the House meets earlier than is customary, to allow the quarter of an hour which always is allowed when we meet at a quarter past four before public business begins. But we have been kept waiting since half-past three. I notice that one Minister (Lord Crewe) has just come in; another (Lord Lansdowne) arrived a little before him. Lord St. Davids has a Question on the Paper, but there is no one on the Government Bench to answer him. In these circumstances, what are we to do? I think we had better adjourn unless we are to get to business.


I understand that Lord Newton, owing to an inadvertence, was not here when the Question standing in the name of Lord St. Davids was reached, but that he has been sent for and is actually on his way to the House; and I take it that a few minutes' indulgence has been extended to him in the expectation that he may at any moment arrive.

[Lord NEWTON then entered the House.]


The Question which I desire to ask His Majesty's Government is whether they have now come to a decision as to the internment of Germans (whether naturalised or not) who have one or more sons actually serving with the German Armies. I put this Question without notice the other day in a debate on the subject of aliens which was raised by the Earl of Meath, and Lord Lansdowne, answering for the Government, said that it was one which he could not answer without inquiry. I intimated that I would put it down again, and I have done so. I noticed in one or two newspapers the statement that obviously I must have been mistaken, because there could not possibly be such a case as that of a naturalised German, with a son serving in the German Army, being allowed to walk about loose in England. I am quite sure the Government will not say that there is no such case. If they do, I shall be pleased to give them one across the floor of the House.

I am not one of those who from the beginning of the war have been hounding at aliens as aliens. On the contrary, I have always from the beginning said that in my view you might judge a parent by his child, and that if a naturalised alien had a son fighting willingly in the British Army you might take it that this was the way in which the parent's sympathy was lying, and you might treat him as a genuine British subject. But when you get a case of exactly the opposite kind, of a German who has been naturalised only since the beginning of the war, and who is such a pretty patriot that he has even forgotten to tell his son which way his sympathies lay, so that the son, no doubt in ignorance of his lather's views, is fighting in the German Army, I want to know how the Government justify such a sweet kind of patriot being allowed to walk about loose. When you have here a naturalised German whose son is fighting in the German Army, and when you know that this German obtained his naturalisation papers since the beginning of the war, I ask, have not those naturalisation papers on the face of them been obtained by fraud, and ought not that naturalisation to be cancelled and the man put in a concentration camp?

We have in London a habit of talking a great deal more freely than we ought to talk. Nobody can go about London constantly without knowing that plenty of things which in most countries that were at war would be treated as secrets are spoken of freely in the clubs and at dinner tables. This is a country where information that is I true is freely obtained by people who are about and able to hear things. In the case of a naturalised alien—a very rich man—who has only just been naturalised and has a son fighting against us, I ask the Government whether it is not both a scandal and a danger that this man should be walking about loose, and I ask them how they justify it.


My Lords, I must begin by apologising profoundly to my noble friend and the House for not having been in my place when this Question was reached. It is entirely my own fault, because I was not aware that the House was meeting at an earlier hour than usual; but in mitigation of my offence I may point out that I attended here the other day when the Question was on the Paper and waited for a considerable time, but the Question was not put.


I should like to explain that at the beginning of the sitting the other day I gave notice to the Leader of the House that I was not going to put the Question then.


I did not mean to find fault with my noble friend, but I was not informed of the postponement on the occasion in question. As a matter of fact, this is a Question which ought to be addressed to the Home Office—


I would point out that I have not addressed it to the noble Lord, but to His Majesty's Government.


I am about to answer for His Majesty's Government, and I was going to ask the noble Lord to be good enough to take the answer from me instead of from the noble Lord who represents the Home Office. My noble friend's Question refers to two separate classes—non-naturalised Germans and naturalised; and, as he will understand, they are in quite a different category. A non-naturalised hostile alien is ipso facto an enemy alien, and is therefore liable to internment or to repatriation, and the possession of a son fighting in the ranks of the enemy would naturally be a circumstance which would not be likely to tell in his favour. As regards naturalised aliens, they are liable to internment under Section 14 (b) of the Defence of the Realm Act; and, of course, in their case also the fact of a son fighting against this country would be taken into consideration and would not be likely to tell in favour of the naturalised British subject.

But it is quite clear that the sympathies of father and son might in many cases be totally different. I know, for instance, of a case of a man who from the beginning of the war has been interned under the subsection to which I have alluded, and who is known to be—he was interned for that reason—hostile in feeling to this country. But he had a son who served with credit in the Navy and who lost his life only a short time ago. I would point out to my noble friend that if the principle suggested were carried out in a very thorough manner, it might have some peculiar results. For instance, I am unable at the moment to think of any one who has a son who is an officer in the German Army except a member of the Royal Family—Prince Christian. I believe that his son was before the war an officer in the German Army. Whether he is an active combatant or not, I do not know. But surely my noble friend hardly suggests—


I should not think of suggesting anything of the kind. The case which I have in mind is an entirely different one, and I will state it to the noble Lord if he wishes.


I do not think anybody would be likely to attach any suspicion to the Royal personage in question because he happened to have a son in the German Army. The noble Lord alluded to a case in which he rather inferred that the naturalisation papers might have been obtained by fraud. I assume that he was referring to an incident which took place at the beginning of the war, and at that time I had no connection with the Government in any capacity; but I imagine that if naturalisation took place at the beginning of the war in the case of a particular person, it was not done for any fraudulent purpose at all, but because it was considered necessary in the public interest that this particular person should become a naturalised British subject. If the fact of a father having a son serving in the belligerent Army is to place that father in the category of a suspected person, then I think the noble Lord should admit that the converse, ought equally to be applicable. Yet a great many of the aliens who are interned here at the present moment have sons and other near relatives serving in our Army or Navy.

I can assure my noble friend that all these cases are investigated. I should think that every single case has been most carefully looked into by the Advisory Committee, a body of which your Lordships know all that is required. I cannot help thinking that the belief that there are a number of suspicions persons walking about whose cases have not been properly investigated is somewhat in the nature of a myth. I am convinced from my own knowledge that these cases are most carefully inquired into, and I should doubt very much whether there are any suspicious characters left outside the camps at the present moment. I cannot help thinking that any fears of this kind are of a groundless nature, and that, if His Majesty's Government have erred at all, they have erred on the side; of possibly excessive strictness. At the same time, if the noble Lord has any doubts on the subject and will furnish me or any other representative of the Government with information with regard to any particular individual, the Department will be most happy to inquire into the circumstances of the, case.