HL Deb 03 May 1933 vol 87 cc695-705

had the following Notice on the Paper.—To ask His Majesty's Government if a Captain von Rintelen who was sentenced to four years imprisonment in America during the War for various acts against this country and its Allies is now permitted to reside in this country, and, if so, why such permission has been granted to him, and if there are any foreign persons convicted of espionage either in this country or elsewhere now resident in Great Britain; and to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House such permission should be revoked.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the question and Motion which I have put on the Paper relate chiefly to a certain Captain von Rintelen who is at present of German nationality and who, during the War, acted as a spy and sabotageur against this country and its Allies in America. For that he received a sentence of four years penal servitude. I do not suppose that I should have known of the presence of this Captain von Rintelen here had it not been for an article which I saw in the Sunday Express some time ago drawing attention to the fact. Owing to my having seen that article, I venture to address your Lordships. Since reading that article I find that Captain von Rintelen has written a book called "The Dark Invader." From the pages of that book I think I shall be able to convince your Lordships that he is an undesirable alien to harbour here, and that permission for him to remain in this country should be withdrawn. I am afraid I shall have to weary your Lordships with a good many pages from this book, but I think I can best prove my case from his own writings.

After managing to reach America he was requested by a compatriot to supply him with detonators for the purpose of placing them on board munition carriers to the Allies after they had been attacked on tile High Seas and the crews removed from them. This Captain von Rintelen eventually got into touch with a German chemist who had invented a new type of detonator. Perhaps your Lordships will bear with me if I read rather a long description of this instrument. On pages 74 and 75 he says: I had to start within a few hours. I provided myself with an excellent Swiss passport, which had been cunningly printed in Berlin, with all the requisite stamps, seals and endorsements, and the German Captain Rintelen became a Swiss citizen Emile V. Gaché. I chose this name because one naval officer in Berlin was married to a Swiss lady, who now became my sister, and coached me with information about numerous nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and other relations whom I had thus newly acquired. She gave me a photograph of my parents' house and of the little cottage high up in the Swiss mountains which we also owned, and furnished me with private lessons on the Swiss Civil Code and my Army duties. My new initials were sewn on my linen, which was sent to a laundry in order that the letters should not appear too new. That is how he managed to get to America.

Then, on pages 95 to 97, is this description of the instrument:

"This piece of lead was hollow inside. Into the middle of the tube a circular disc of copper had been Dressed and soldered, dividing it into two chambers. One of these chambers was filled with picric acid, the other with sulphuric acid or some other inflammable liquid. A strong plug made of wax with a simple lead cap made both ends airtight. The copper disc could be as thick or as thin as we pleased. If it were thick, the two acids on either side took a, long time to eat their way through. If it were thin, the mingling of the two acids would occur within a few days. By regulating the thickness of the disc it was possible to determine the time when the acids should come together. This formed a safe and efficient time-fuse. When the two acids mingled at the appointed time, a silent but intense flame, from 20 to 30 centimetres long, shot out from both ends of the tube and while it was still burning the lead casing melted away without a trace: spurlos!

I looked at Dr. Scheele. I had hit upon a plan in which this 'cigar' should play the chief part, and I asked the chemist to demonstrate his invention by an experiment. We went out into a little wood near tie town. Ho chose a very thin copper disc, put it in the tube and laid the apparatus on the ground. We stood nearby. If the detonator worked, I could put my scheme into operation. I knew what use could be made of this 'diabolical' invention; and all that was necessary was that it should function. Heaven knows it did ! The stream of flame which suddenly shot out of the confounded 'cigar' nearly blinded me, it was so strong; and the lead malted into an almost invisible fragment.

When I looked round I saw Dr. Scheele leaning against a tree. He was gazing with bemused eyes at the tiny piece of lead, all that was left of his fiery magic.

'That was pretty good, wasn't it?' he said.

'I'll say it was!'

We soon came to terms. He was first given a round cheque in return for allowing me to use the 'cigar' in any way I wished. I asked him to return on the following day, and in the meantime I secured a few assistants—captains of German ships with whom I had already become good friends, and Irishmen whose 'approval' I had won. The Irishmen had no idea who I was, nor did they ask me. It was sufficient for them that I was not very friendly towards England. I collected these men together, and took them to my office. I was sure that I could trust them, and they did not disappoint me. I came straight to the point and explained to them that I had found a means of stopping the hated shipments of munitions, and one which would not infringe American neutrality as far as I was concerned. The construction of the 'cigars' was explained to them, and I inquired if it were possible to smuggle them unobserved on to the transports which were carrying explosives to Europe. They were unanimously of the opinion that this could be very easily arranged and had no scruples since the incendiary bombs would not go off till the vessels were outside American territorial waters."

Then on page 121 he says:

"Our dockers had, of course, only put the detonators in the holds which contained no munitions, for we had no intention of blowing up the ship from neutral territory.…When the ship caught fire on the open sea the captain naturally had the munition hold flooded to eliminate the most serious danger. None of the ships reached its port of destination, and most of them sank after the crew had been taken off by other vessels. In every case the explosives were flooded and rendered useless."

He says: "most of them." What happened in the minority of cases? I should think it very likely, as an article in the Weekly Scotsman suggests, that

"he may have been responsible for several ships which totally disappeared."

In any case he endangered the lives of defenceless seamen on the high seas. On page 131 he says:

"My most fanatical helpers in this way were the Irish. They swarmed about the various ports with detonators in their pockets and lost no opportunity of having a smack at an English ship."

On page 163 he says: "As before, we only put them on British, French and Russian vessels so as not to violate American neutrality."

There was an article in the Daily Herald of March 31, which is headed:

"Press Agency spreads," and says:

"The words 'Master spy in trouble' head a paragraph sent me. Yes, even a master spy has a Press agent now."

And under the next heading of this article—" A nice distinction "—the Daily Herald says:

"The Press agent goes on to say that von Rintelen's activities were never directed against this country, but were confined to America…"

On page 181 of the book, the author says:

"I began to take a band in the Irish question. After communication with Berlin I was able to make positive proposals to the malcontents. They lacked rifles and munitions. Very well! These were to be had in abundance in America. There were enough ships sailing to Ireland from American ports."

And lie goes on: "The question of naval intervention on the Irish coast was much more serious, and constituted one of the chief anxieties of the Irish committee in New York; but at one of their meetings I put the German Government's reply on the table. The Admiralty was prepared to send U-boats to the Irish coast which would lie hidden until the opportunity arrived to put a spoke in the British Navy plans for landing men. When my Irish friends looked up from this document, I saw in their eyes the desperate resolve to commence hostilities. They made their arrangements with their home country, and I made mine with Berlin, and a day was fixed for the rising to take place in Dublin which was to spread throughout the whole of Ireland. Either one or two days before, I, do not remember exactly, Casement was to be put ashore on the Irish coast from a U-boat, and Germany, in order to exploit the opportunity as far as possible, was prepared to land troops carrying machine guns from an auxiliary cruiser sailing alone."

The whole book, which was published as recently as the beginning of this year, is in praise of Germany, and naturally so, because Captain von Rintelen was undoubtedly and still is an upholder of Germany. And yet it has been frequently stated that he intends to become a British subject after he has resided here the requisite period. I should have thought that if a person wanted to change his nationality it would be either because he hated his country of origin or felt better disposed towards the country of his adoption. What are the facts? This would-be British subject has a rather peculiar way of showing his whole-hearted loyalty to Great Britain, for when interviewed by a representative of theDaily Heraldin relation to the question before your Lordships, this is what he said:

"So far as I know, the question, coming as it does during the present espionage scare, is pure coincidence."

My Lords, the only spy case going on then was the Baillie-Stewart case, which came to an end on March 29, and that trial he stigmatised as a scare. To show how much he still idolises Germany, opposite page 35 of the book there is a signed photograph of the ex-Emperor, dated August 13, 1932, with this peculiar subscription: "Meinen, dank für freundliches gedenken!" "My thanks for your kindly thoughts." So he still appears to worship at the shrine of one of the chief instigators of the War, and to be looked upon by the ex-Kaiser as still being a good German. I find no fault with that, because I have not much opinion of a person who does not uphold his country of origin, but if he still loves Germany and the German Emperor so much, then I submit that the proper place for him is Germany and not this country.

I am not likening this Captain von Rintelen to two very undesirable aliens who were refused admittance to this country, but I wish to refer to one Thaw, who committed a murder years ago. The other was Diamond, a gangster. I do not believe that Diamond had ever been convicted in his own country of any offence, but neither of these two men had ever done anything against this country nor were they likely to. Yet this Captain von Rintelen on his own showing always plotted our downfall during the War, and in a none too open manner, and it gives offence to some mothers that we should harbour such an individual in our country. I therefore beg to put my Question and to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, That if permission to reside in Great Britain has been granted to Captain von Rintelen and to any foreign persons convicted of espionage either in this country or elsewhere such permission should be revoked.—(Viscount Bertie of Theme.)


My Lords, the noble Viscount has given you several extracts from the book which Captain von Rintelen has lately published. I have not read it myself, and I do not know if he tells you in that book, but I can tell you, that he was understood to be residing in America at the outbreak of the late War, and was subsequently made a prisoner of war by the British Forces, having been taken off a ship on the high seas, and was interned in this country as a prisoner of war. At a later date, when America came into the War, he was taken hack to America, where he was charged with having committed certain offences before he had left that country. His Majesty's Government were not officially informed of the nature of the charges brought against him, but it is understood that he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. What the noble Viscount complains of is that in 1926 Captain von Rintelen came over to this country and was given leave to land by the immigration officer at the port of arrival. Foreigners in this country do not require permission to reside, as they do in certain other countries, and if they are allowed by the immigration officer to land they can remain here until they are guilty of any misbehaviour, when the Home Secretary may order them to be deported.

The Aliens Order is an Order by which a foreigner may be allowed to land. It is an Order-in-Council, made under the Aliens Restrictions Acts, as continued from year to year, and the general principle under which that Order is administered—I think the matter came up in the House of Commons and it was explained by the Home Secretary not very long ago—is that foreigners are free to reside in this country if their presence here is not contrary to the public interest. Captain von Rintelen was given leave to land here, and after making special inquiries the Home Secretary has no reason to believe that his presence here is in any way detrimental to the interests of this country. As regards the: noble Viscount's Resolution, that the permission to land should be revoked, I can only repeat what I said just now, that there is no system of residence permits in force in this country, and that the Home Secretary would have to make a deportation order under Article 12 of the Aliens Order. Under that Article he has power to deport an alien if he deems it to be conducive to the public good. The Home Secretary, however, has no reason to believe that it is detrimental to this country's interest, and he would not feel justified at present in taking any action to terminate Captain Avon Rintelen's stay in this country.

I would, however, press on the noble Viscount, which I hope will satisfy him, that the Home Secretary, if Captain von Rintelen's continued presence is deemed to be not conducive to the public good, has ample power to enforce his departure and would not hesitate to use that power if necessary. The noble Viscount has enquired whether any other foreign persons convicted of espionage in this country or elsewhere are now resident in Great Britain, and I am informed that with the exception of a German citizen at present undergoing a term of imprisonment for an offence under the Official Secrets Act, His Majesty's Government are not aware that any alien convicted of espionage against this country is at present residing in Great Britain. The noble Viscount spoke about this gentleman's intention to become a naturalised British subject, but I am informed that no application from Captain von Rintelen for the grant of a certificate of naturalisation has been received at the Home Office.


He has not been here long enough.


I do not know how long that is. I have, I think, replied to the noble Viscount and put forward the position of the Home Office. It was that the immigration officer had no information of this gentleman having been convicted in the United States, and therefore gave permission to land. That permission to land holds good until it is found desirable that he should be removed from the country, and then, as I have explained, under the Aliens Act the Home Secretary can make an order for deportation. I hope I have satisfied the noble Viscount and that he will not proceed with his Resolution.


My Lords, all those who have travelled in ex-enemy countries since the War have probably encountered at one time or another persons known as war criminals, and in many cases they have found these persons to be singularly unlike what they imagined them to be. I have in mind one gentleman who was an Ambassador here, and who was universally respected, and who, I believe, also figured originally on the list of war criminals. Whether Captain von Rintelen is a desirable person or not to encourage to live in this country I do not express an opinion. I remember that when I had to do with such matters Captain von Rintelen had a very bad reputation as an enemy and he was a roan who, we considered, had done us a great deal of damage. Whenever questions of exchanging individual prisoners arose we were nearly always confronted with a demand by the Germans that Captain von Rintelen should be exchanged for a particular person whom we wanted, and we invariably refused.

The noble Viscount read a number of extracts regarding this gentleman, but I can recite his history in a very few sentences. Captain von Rintelen was a naval officer who was sent to America with the object of sinking Allied ships, and he succeeded in his purpose extremely well, as is shown by his book. But eventually he was brought back to Europe by a very ingenious stratagem conceived by Admiral Hall, who sent him a telegram in the name of the German Admiralty, ordering him to report himself at Berlin immediately. Captain von Rintelen, being a well-trained officer, immediately responded and took the next boat. When he arrived at Falmouth he was taken off the boat by our people, his papers naturally were examined, and he was taken to the camp at Donnington as a war prisoner. There he remained and, judging by what he says in his book, his sojourn there was not a disagreeable one. But when America came into the War the American Government demanded that he should be handed over to them as a war criminal. I had something to do with this matter myself, and I do not feel absolutely certain in my own mind that we did the right thing. But, anyhow, we handed Captain von Rintelen over to the Americans, and he served five or six years penal servitude in an American penitentiary.

This does not look as if he were a person on whom we need bestow much sympathy, but my noble friend admitted the fact that he receives a very high testimonial, which is printed in the book, from Admiral Hall, the person who had him arrested. Nobody knew more about the Germans than Admiral Hall, and I find it rather difficult to reconcile the two facts. Is Captain von Rintelen a hardened criminal who ought under no circumstances to be admitted to this country, or is he, as Admiral Hall represents, an officer who was only doing his duty? Well, I do not really know enough about the matter to express an opinion; but, as my noble friend suggested that he ought to go back to Germany, it happens oddly enough that I have just returned from Germany myself, in fact I was there only a few hours ago. And, still more strangely, the case of Captain von Rintelen came up, and I was informed on the highest authority that if he returned to Germany he would be arrested and imprisoned immediately.


My Lords, might I ask the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, to explain one matter? I am not quite certain what he told us. I understood that once a person has got past the immigration officer and comes into this country the Home Secretary, if he thinks proper, can in certain circumstances order his deportation. Has he to wait until that person has committed an offence in this country, or has he a perfectly free hand to go into the matter and say that on the whole, having considered this man's past and what he is, he feels he can make the order now?


My Lords, might I ask the noble Earl a question which I think goes wider than the case of this particular Captain von Rintelen? My noble friend says that when Captain von Rintelen landed the immigration officer let him in, not knowing that he had been convicted as a spy in the United States. What I should like to know is what inquiries ought the immigration officer to make before he allows an alien to land in this country, with the result, as my noble friend, Lord Newton, says, that once he gets in he is entitled to live here until he is turned out by the Home Secretary? Is it not the duty of the immigration officer, before he admits an alien under these conditions, to make inquiries from some source and find out whether really he is a desirable or an undesirable person to land? Otherwise you run a great danger of permitting highly undesirable aliens to land and live here until somebody calls attention to the fact that they are undesirable. I should like to ask also what is the advantage to anyone in the country of having a man of that type? Is it to benefit British trade, British employment or British morals, or is it to benefit any single resident in this country that we should have a convicted spy here, apparently not to be removed even when the attention of the authorities has been drawn to the fact that he is a convicted spy? This does, I think, raise rather a bigger question than is involved in the case of Captain von Rintelen.


My Lords, with regard to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, I understand that if the Home Secretary considers that the stay of this officer is detrimental to the interests of the country, he has ample power to order his deportation. He has not to wait for any further offence to be committed. As regards Lord Danesfort, I understand he was asking why the immigration officer did not know that this officer had been in prison and was ineligible to land. I understand that in the case of an extraditable offence notice is always handed to the immigration officer, but as this case took place during the War, when there were no legal proceedings in connection with it, I understand that is why the immigration officer did not know, and it is only for an extraditable offence that the man would be disqualified. As regards the latter part, I cannot say why it is desirable that Captain von Rintelen should come to this country or whether he is going to become a naturalised British subject. I should think he was working ail he knew for his country during the War, and I do not think that I should blame him for that.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I understood to say "Admiral Hall's certificate is good enough."


He knew all about it.