HL Deb 20 July 1927 vol 68 cc707-19

Read 3a (according to Order).

Clause 1:

S. 1. of 9 & 10 Geo. 5. c. 92. to be permanent.

1. So much of Section one of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, or any Act extending the duration of that section, as limits the duration of that section shall cease to have effect; and, accordingly, the enactments mentioned in the Schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent specified in the third column of that Schedule.

THE MARQUESS OF READING moved to insert at the end of the clause:— Provided that in the case of an immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on religious grounds or persecution involving danger of imprisonment or danger to life and limb on account of religious belief, 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 or failure to produce a permit from the Minister of Labour.

The noble Marquess said: This is in part an Amendment moved on the Committee stage by my noble and learned friend Lord Phillimore, but that Amendment included a special provision regarding persons fleeing from countries on political grounds or who have taken part in a political offence. Lord Phillimore then indicated that he was prepared, if necessary, to give way upon that point. But the matter never went any further, because, owing to a misunderstanding, the Question was put, and there was no further debate upon it. I had myself intended to support the Amendment, and I know there was at least one other noble Lord who desired to support it. There was a misunderstanding for which nobody was responsible. No answer was given on behalf of the Government.


I was just getting up to speak.


The reason why I did not rise was that the noble Lord himself rose, and I gave way to him, but meanwhile unfortunately the Question was put. Consequently, the only opportunity of raising this question—because it cannot be said to have been decided on the last occasion—is now, after the Motion for the Third Reading has been passed. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind the limited purpose of the Amendment, as much confusion has been caused at times perhaps because Amendments of this character have been moved on other occasions which went further than the proposal I am now moving. Instead of the usual practice of bringing in a Bill year by year containing the emergency provisions dealt with in various Acts, including the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, this Bill is introduced for the purpose of making this emergency provision of that Act a permanent part of the law of the country. It is for that reason that this proposal assumes so much importance. I should not myself be so much concerned about it if we were dealing with a measure which had to be introduced each year, when any difficulties could be brought before Parliament.

My Amendment would ensure that an immigrant who is seeking refuge in this country solely—and I lay great stress on the word "solely"—to avoid persecution or imprisonment on religious grounds should not be denied admission merely on the ground of want of means. I submit that that is a very reasonable proposal. It is of a strictly limited character. It purposely avoids any reference to political offences, or to persons who are taking part in political agitation. I do not seek, that is, to make this provision apply to politicians. There have been attempts in the past to do it. I quite realise, especially in view of certain considerations, that it may not be desirable to make the law too wide and to enable the political offender and political agitator to obtain admission into this country without the most careful inquiry. I am not seeking in the slightest degree to interfere in those emergency provisions, which are incorporated in the Act of Parliament at present and which this Bill seeks to make permanent. Therefore, I would ask your Lordships to dismiss from your minds altogether any suggestion that the indirect effect might be to admit the political agitator or the political offender into this country by this means. Nothing of that kind could happen. I am quite sure I shall have the assent of my noble friend Lord Desborough in what I say with regard to that.

The whole object of this Amendment is merely to provide that, when the immigrant, who seeks refuge in this country solely because he is persecuted on account of his religious belief and who is fleeing because of his religious faith, seeks admission to this country, refuge shall be given to him. I do not ask it or claim it for a moment as a right. I agree with what Lord Desborough said on the last occasion, that every country has the right to determine for itself the circumstances and conditions under which it will admit aliens. But there is a history and a tradition in this land. There are a number of cases I could give. I refrain from quoting them, partly because, they are so well known, partly because I am afraid they are quoted on every occasion of debate of this character. I would prefer to attribute to your Lordships a knowledge of history and of the circumstances which led in the past century to the immigration of persecuted Christians in foreign countries, who came to this country and not only prospered here, but contributed also to the benefit and advantage of this country.

My purpose is not to introduce any new policy. There is no new departure in the Amendment I propose. All I desire is to give effect in this Bill to the traditional policy of this country, which has been pre-eminent in its tolerance and also in the reception it has given to those who have sought admission into this country on account of persecution for their religious belief. What I ask your Lordships to do is to accept the Amendment, which I will read, and I will then detain you for two minutes more after I have read it in order to establish the propositions laid down. The Amendment says: Provided that in the case of an immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on religious grounds or persecution involving danger of imprisonment or danger to life and limb on account of religious belief, 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 or failure to produce a permit from the Minister of Labour. I would call your attention to the fact that first the immigrant has to prove that he is seeking admission solely on the ground that he is avoiding persecution. That is the first thing he has to establish and, when he has established it, all I am asking is that the mere fact that he is a poor man and has no means shall not be a reason for refusing him admission to this country. That is the sum and substance of the Amendment which I ask your Lordships to introduce into this Bill, which is being discussed for the first time in this House but does deserve your Lordships' attention. May I also respectfully suggest to you that the policy to which I have referred, that large-spirited tolerance and protection of those whose sole crime is that they are adhering to a civilised religious faith, is not merely the policy of one section or of one Party, but it is the policy of the people of this country, as has been shown on many occasions. I invoke no Party spirit On the contrary, it seems to me that I can appeal to your Lordships as a body and ask you to give effect to the views I have expressed, to give this protection, because it is not much more than that. It will only avail to enable the immigrant persecuted on religious grounds to be admitted to this country, although it may be that he is a very poor man and cannot prove that he has the means that would otherwise be necessary.

There is the whole point of it. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind what I have put to you and to recall, as I am sure you will, the tradition of this country in this respect and to remember that, if this proviso is not inserted, the Emergency Powers which are given without this protection are now to be placed permanently on the Statute Book, instead of, as heretofore, coming up yearly for revision, when we should have an opportunity of bringing forward any Amendment that we may desire. I do therefore ask the Government to consider this very modest Amendment. I would suggest to them that, if they would accept it, the utmost is that their officials shall not merely refuse a man who is being persecuted for his religion because he has no means. In that they will not be in the slightest degree affecting the Bill they are seeking to pass, but they will be introducing a provision which has the full support, I believe, of every right-minded and generous-minded man in this country.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert the said proviso.—(The Marquess of Reading.)


My Lords, I hope very much the Government will see their way to accept the Amendment which has been moved by the noble and learned Marquess. This Amendment does not con- tain the clause in a previous Amendment allowing political offenders to obtain special terms for admission into this country. Such a clause, however desirable at other times, at the present time, in view of the disturbed state of Europe, it would be wholly impossible to expect a Government to accept. But I think there is a strong case for accepting an Amendment to allow those who are leaving their country for religious reasons, owing to danger to life through religious persecution, to be admitted to this country on special terms. We are all agreed that of all forms of persecution religious persecution is the most hateful, and all classes and denominations in this country are united in regarding as both wrong and foolish any attempt to coerce a man's religious convictions by methods of violence.

We are unable to interfere with other countries when they attempt the methods of persecution, but we have been able to mitigate to some small degree some of the results of those persecutions by admitting those who are in danger of their life. By so doing we have made our deliberate protest against this policy of persecution. When we look back, as the noble and learned Marquess has reminded us, on the history of this country, we see that during the past three centuries our country has gained both honour to itself and also, to some extent, material prosperity, through this policy. I know that criticisms and strictures have been made on it, but it remains the historical fact that during the last three centuries this has been the country to which persecuted people have always turned with hope and from which they have always expected to receive welcome and refuge. The days of persecution are not over. We sometimes speak as if persecution was simply a matter of the past. It is difficult to realise that in the last thirteen years religious persecutions have taken place on a more extensive and a more intensive scale than, I suppose, at any other time in the history of Christendom. This has been the case both in Turkey and in Russia, and who would not feel overwhelmed with shame and humiliation if there came to our country some unhappy refugees, penniless, poverty-stricken and ruined, who were turned back from our ports, doomed to their death, because we were unable to admit them to this country?

I venture to say that every one of us would feel humiliated if that happened, to whomsoever it happened if he was driven out of this country for religious reasons. We may be told that no Home Secretary would allow this to happen, that the Home Secretary would use his discretionary power; but we cannot always rely that we shall have Home Secretaries who are not only good and wise, but also have the time to deal with these individual cases. Besides, this is a question of principle, and it is surely right for Parliament, while barring the door against undesirable aliens, to leave at any rate some wicketgate open through which those who are persecuted for religious causes may enter into safety. We may also be told that this Amendment, if adopted, may increase the amount of unemployment in this country. I recognise fully that we cannot use the argument which has often been used in the past that those who come to this country will probably bring some special experience and some special skill at their own industries. I fear that argument is not applicable to-day. Those who come here will come here with poverty, will come here ruined, will come here with very few special abilities, but they will come with their consciences, with their strength of religious conviction which has made them ready to endure for the sake of their faith.

After all, you cannot decide these issues merely on material grounds, merely on weighing up whether we shall gain or lose a certain number of pounds. Probably only very few will be admitted to the country under the proviso which has been drawn so very carefully by the noble and learned Marquess, and if we lose financially we shall gain in other ways. We shall gain by preserving a great and noble national tradition, by which those who have suffered through religious persecution have been able to find safety and welcome in this land.


My Lords, I rise to return a very brief reply to the arguments which have been submitted in such very eloquent terms by my noble friend opposite and supported so warmly by the right rev. Prelate behind me. This Amendment really is, in substance, the same as the Amendment which was moved and which had a truncated existence when the Bill was in Committee, with the exception that it leaves out political refugees. The words are solely confined to those impecunious religious refugees who should not be denied the hospitality of this country merely because they are paupers. The Government are quite ready to say that they would not consider impecuniosity a bar in any special cases which might be brought to their notice. They have, under the present Bill, full power to admit any of these unfortunate individuals, but the special exemption on religious grounds, which I will deal with very briefly a little later on, really cuts across the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill is that the Home Secretary should have the power, at his own discretion, of limiting the number of alien refugees or others who come into, or seek to come into, this country.

I have given the reasons more than once for this. One is the very congested state of this country at the present time—more than 483 inhabitants to the square mile, one million of people out of work and insufficient houses for those who at present constitute our working classes. In these circumstances the Government have considered it necessary, instead of coming to Parliament every year, to make permanent till otherwise ordered, an Act under which we have been living for seven years past, and which has proved itself to be over and over again not only a useful Act, but an Act that has been most successful in its operations. None of the dreadful hardships which have been prophesied and talked about now have occurred. The position of the Government is that this power should be in the hands of the Home Secretary, a Minister of State responsible to Parliament and to the general opinion of the country. You may be perfectly sure that if the powers which he is given are ill-used that Minister, with watchful eyes upon him in Parliament, will very soon be called to task. The right rev. Prelate who spoke last seemed to maintain that right of asylum which I understand the advocates of this proposal have given up—that is to say, there is no right of asylum inherent in aliens to come to this country whenever they like.

I have in my hand a leading article from a famous paper in the provinces which laments that this right of asylum is now going to be trampled upon and torn up and that the old traditions of this country are going to be departed from. I may quote something that it says because it is rather interesting at the present moment. Dealing with this right of asylum, it quotes Vienna, of all places, as an example, and this is what it says with regard to Vienna: Factions that in their native haunts would operate with daggers and dynamite melt and overflow with goodwill in the genial atmosphere of Viennese freedom. The article refers a great deal to Viennese freedom and the wonderful results which have flown from the admission to Viennese cafès of Russians White, Red or Pink, Macedonians, Albanians, and every sort of person. Unfortunately, two days after these words were printed the one place of all places which they burned down in Vienna was the Palace of Justice. I commend that to my noble and learned friend who moved this Amendment.


It had nothing to do with religion.


I did not say it had. I was answering the right rev. Prelate who went rather outside the Amendment. But my noble and learned friend opposite did not confine his most eloquent words entirely to people who suffer from religious persecution.


Forgive me, I was most careful, not once but twice to do it.


I accept that at once. The Amendment which has been moved is really modelled on the Act of 1905. It is practically the same except that politics are eschewed. But the case then was entirely different. There was no general restriction then. What happened at the ports was that there was a restriction with reference to steerage passengers. First- and second-class passengers came in whatever their religious views were, and whether they were persecuted at home or whether they were not, but those who were steerage passengers could be excluded if they were considered undesirable—undesirable, that is to say, either criminally or for medical or other reasons. This Act of 1905 provided that if a man had fled from a country for political reasons or because he was persecuted on account of religion that should be no reason for refusing him leave to come here. Now we have got an Act which enables the Secretary of State to set up a bar against all aliens. It is quite a different thing. I submit that this proviso does not fit in with the object of this Bill in any way. It might be read to mean that a pauper suffering from religious persecution must be admitted, or rather had a right to expect to be admitted.

It seems to me that if the proviso merely means "may" then that is the case now, because the Home Secretary may do it if he likes. If it means "must," and that a man who says he is persecuted and has no money therefore has a right to come to this country, then in view of the fact, as I have said, that we have over a million people unemployed, the Government must take exception to that Point of view. There are many sorts of religion. Take the case of the Armenians, for instance. The Government would not object to one or two distinguished people coming here, but the Armenians are a much-persecuted people and, I believe, indigent people, and the Government would be averse from throwing open the country to hundreds or thousands of Armenians who prefer this country to their own. Then there are Russian Christians who have been terribly persecuted. We de not want them all here. When we have a million unemployed we do not want to add several thousands—I do not know how many thousands—of Russian Christians. Then there are Russian Jews. They are most estimable people, we have tried to do our best for them in Palestine, but they might prefer this country, with free education and hospitals and doles, to Palestine, where they are already meeting with difficulties. They are religious people suffering from persecution and they would also undoubtedly be indigent.

Then there are the Doukhobors. I believe they fully come up to all the necessary requirements. They are very religious—almost too much so—and I believe at the same time they meet the necessary requirement of indigence. They have given a great deal of trouble, I understand, in the United States. They are addicted in their religious rites to dancing without a sufficiency of clothing. Do we want to welcome them here? Then there are also the Mormons. They have suffered cruelly for their religion. They went far to the West to avoid persecution and they thought they had found a safe place, but now they find civilisation is creeping up to them. Many of them might want to land here with all the odour of religious sanctity and the necessary insufficiency of money. If this Amendment were passed it might very well be argued that they had a right to come. The Home Secretary can at the present time admit those suffering from, religious persecution if they can establish a claim to come here. I am afraid that, in view of the state of the country and its trade and employment, and of the housing congestion, that. I must ask the House not to accept the Amendment.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in answer to my noble friend Lord Desborough. I think, if I may say so with great respect to him, that he has really not understood the scope of the Amendment. The scope of the Amendment is that a religious refugee shall not be refused admittance on the ground merely of want of means. That is to say, poverty alone shall not be a sufficient reason for refusing a refuge here to a person suffering from religious persecution. I think everyone would desire that. It is not a question of a right of asylum—I heard what the noble and leaned Marquess said on that point—but by custom and tradition we have allowed this asylum, much to the honour of this country, and it has increased our standing in other countries on grounds of freedom and liberty.

The only argument, as I understood, that the noble Lord really addressed against the Amendment, was the argument of congestion and unemployment. Can it reasonably be said for a moment that allowing these religious refugees to come here could possibly affect questions of that kind? How could it? It really is impossible to suppose that religious refugees could possibly affect large questions of that kind. I do not want to repeat what the noble and learned Marquess said so admirably, but when we come to the point the question really is whether a refugee from religious persecution is to be refused an asylum merely on the ground of poverty. That is the simple question and the only question. While the right of discretion was being discussed a refugee might be sent away from this country. It is impossible in matters of this kind to assume that you can exercise in each case an individual discretion. I regret very much that within these very narrow limitations the Government have not been able to accept this Amendment.


My Lords, I am sure many of your Lordships must have felt sympathy with some of the eloquent remarks of the noble and learned Marquess and the right rev. Prelate, but it seems to me that the answer to that argument is an exceedingly simple one. We agree that in proper cases victims of religious persecution should be admitted into this country. That is the substance of the argument of the noble and learned Marquess and the right rev. Prelate, but they cut the ground from under their own feet because they have admitted—in fact they alleged, and truly alleged—that for three hundred years this country has allowed asylum in proper cases to victims of religious persecution. There was no necessity for the noble and learned Marquess's Amendment in order to enable victims of religious persecution in proper cases to come into this country. They have come as, indeed, he and his friends and the last speaker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, have asserted. Accordingly I venture to submit to your Lordships that this Amendment is wholly and absolutely unnecessary.

If the noble and learned Marquess had come to your Lordships' House and had brought definite cases of hardship and oppression of men who had been persecuted for their religious convictions, and who had been refused admission into this country simply and solely because they were poor men and were likely to become a charge upon the rates, he might have presented a stronger case for this Amendment; but none of the noble and learned Lords who have spoken to-day ventured to put forward any such case. Why? Because there is no such case. The truth is that under the Act of 1919, which has now been in existence for seven years, the Home Secretary has an absolute discretion to say what aliens shall or shall not be admitted into this country, and that discretion is working remarkably well. The noble and learned Marquess admits that he must have a discretion in other matters, but he would except the victims of religious persecution. He admitted in terms that the Home Secretary must have a discretion in regard to victims of political persecution. I think he was wise in making that admission and, indeed, it was obvious that he must make it. But why, in the sole case of victims of religious persecution, the Home Secretary should be deprived of his absolute discretion I cannot see, and no case was made out for the suggestion. I venture to think that this Amendment is wholly misconceived and that your Lordships would do wisely, for the reasons that have been stated so forcibly by the noble Lord below me, to reject it.


My Lords, both my noble friend Lord Desborough and my noble friend Lord Danesfort have, if they will permit me to say so, made my case even stronger than I was able to make it. I understood from both of them that the Home Secretary

Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.