HL Deb 15 August 1940 vol 117 cc247-68

4.19 p.m.

LORD NEWTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps have been taken to expedite the hearing of appeals from interned civilian aliens, and to call attention to the statement made in the House on behalf of His Majesty's Government on Tuesday, the 6th instant. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as you are no doubt aware the Home Office has no direct representative here, and it is therefore more difficult than usual—it is already difficult enough—to get information from that Department. It was quite a surprise to me to find, after I had put this Notice on the Paper, that the system of appeals from tribunals by aliens had been completely altered. Until a short time ago every alien who applied for liberation had to appear before a body styled the Advisory Committee. That is a Committee of which I have had experience myself, not as a suspected person but in the capacity of a witness. The impression conveyed to me was that it was an admirable body, very well adapted to its purpose, extremely impartial, and well acquainted with the facts, and that the only criticism which could be applied to it was that it was very slow in operation, although this was not its own fault.

Now, however, I understand—and this was news to me—that alien internees no longer come before this Committee at all, but that it is reserved for the purpose of examining natives of Britain who are suspected of sedition. I observed, with feelings almost amounting to stupefaction, in one of the sensational papers—as a rule I believe the reverse of what I read in such papers—that the Committee had spent a whole day in examining Mosley. That seems to me an extraordinary waste of time. I look upon this man as a national infliction—no other words will describe him adequately—and it is for the benefit of the whole community that he should remain in seclusion. For my part, I should be very glad to hear that he had been deported to some Colony or other, in company with people who ought not to go there at all but who are being sent there by accident.

The functions formerly discharged by the Advisory Committee have apparently, according to the new arrangements, been transferred to a small Committee in- cluding a Judge and a General. I should be inclined to think that this is an extremely competent tribunal, because the Judge must naturally be acquainted with the questions which are likely to arise and the General, who is General Sir Neill Malcolm, is well acquainted with questions of the kind which he will have to investigate. What I find it difficult to understand is the precise duty of this Committee. When my noble friend who represents the Home Office made his statement the other day, he explained that the Committee was going to undertake an inquiry based, as far as I could make out, on categories. I gather that one of its functions will be to discover, or perhaps to invent, a new category. I am not enamoured of categories at all in connection with this matter; I do not think that a man's liberation ought to depend solely upon a category—as, for instance, that he can be useful to this country, or has a son in the Army, or anything of that kind. That is no doubt in his favour, but there may be other persons who are not in any category but who are equally entitled to consideration. I want to know what is going to happen to them. A man may have a perfectly blameless character, but may be in no category at all; I think that there must be refugees in this class, and I should like to know whether such people will come before this tribunal.

If I had my way, I should employ the members of this Committee in quite a different capacity; I should be inclined to send them to one of the big internment camps to investigate the position there, and to find out, if necessary from the Commandant, what I would almost call the more glaring cases of injustice. They might be put in a position to interview the people themselves, and I should like them to be given the power to order their release immediately, subject, of course, to the consent of the Home Secretary. I believe that the Committee would be better employed in that way than in the way which has been suggested.

There is another body, which was mentioned by my noble friend in his statement the other day, a body called the Advisory Council. This Council, in spite of its awe-inspiring name, does not inspire me with any confidence at all. It is presided over by my noble friend Lord Lytton, who I am sure will lend a sympa- thetic ear to all the complaints which reach him; but this Council appears to me to be a most unworkmanlike and un-businesslike body. It is composed of a number of Members of Parliament, who no doubt think themselves important people, and of certain eminent women, who no doubt have a proper opinion of their own capacity; and all these people imagine themselves to be in a highly responsible position and will have theories and views of their own. I think that it will be extremely difficult for the noble Earl to keep them in order, and almost impossible to obtain an early decision on any point. The noble Earl will have to deal with people who are accustomed to talking and who are larger in number than the ordinary Cabinet—not the War Cabinet—which itself consists of far too many people. If he can make any rapid progress, I shall be greatly surprised.

This Advisory Council has been established in order to deal with what is called the welfare of the prisoners. It is in almost the same position as a committee set up on a tourist ship to preside over the sports; it is a glorified edition of a ship's sports committee. If the Council is going to do any useful work, however, there is an obvious opening for it to do most useful work in obtaining employment for the alien internees. In the last war I was Controller of the Prisoners of War Department and, although it was not my business, I was eternally agitating for the employment of interned alien civilians. Nearly everybody opposed me, and especially the Departments, but fortunately I had friends in the Cabinet and at last I induced them to let out a few people. I think that I was the first to make use of their services, and I persuaded friends of mine to do the same. Before long the practice became general and almost all the able-bodied aliens were employed, much to the benefit of themselves and of the community.

I understand perfectly well the difference between the circumstances then and the circumstances to-day. At the present moment we stand almost at the crisis of our fate, and it is no exaggeration to say that a most any day we may wake up to find that an invasion of our country is in progress. No doubt on these grounds the military would strongly oppose the release of aliens and say that it would be very dangerous; but I refuse to believe that there would be any danger about it at all. These people have fled from Germany because they detest Hitler and all his works; most of them have come here as refugees, and they are the very last people in the world who would be likely to welcome the approach of a German Army. I do not think, therefore, that there is any reason whatever to expect any danger from that quarter.

I pass from these details to a more important question. When the noble Duke made his statement the other day he admitted that great mistakes had been made and that the position was very unsatisfactory. Consider for a moment what the position is. There are at present 20,000 aliens interned and I am told—no doubt it is perfectly true—that the Home Secretary has received considerably over 200,000 applications for the release of these people. I have also been told—though I admit that I have some difficulty in believing it—that the staff told off to deal with this colossal correspondence amounted until recently only to eight, but has now been increased to nineteen. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to give me some information on that point. If this fact is true, or even approximately true, it does largely account for the delay which people have experienced in receiving replies to their letters. As far as I am concerned I write to various Departments occasionally, the Home Office included, and have very great difficulty in receiving answers at all. But I imagine there must be very many people who are worse treated in that respect than I am, and thousands and thousands of people who are without information of their relatives in these camps. This is one of the grievances admitted by my noble friend in his speech, and my noble friend was quite candid in his statement; he admitted that there was a great deal to complain of. He explained what the complaints were himself, and he admitted the cardinal fact that the real difficulty is that we have interned a lot of people and we do not know how to get them out. That is what it amounts to.

There is only one refreshing fact in connection with this sordid story of aliens internment, and that is that, so far as I am aware, not one single complaint has ever been made against the treatment of these internees by those who are respon- sible for their detention. I should be surprised if there had been. The British official in my opinion is not only the most capable specimen of his class, but he is also almost invariably a humane man, and we are a humane nation. We have-long enjoyed a reputation for humanity and liberality. But there is one great defect in the British character, and it is especially noticeable in people who hold high Government positions. There is an unfortunate want of imagination in many prominent Englishmen, and it is this want of imagination that is really responsible for the present chaotic condition of this alien question.

I think myself that the system upon which it is founded is radically wrong. I agree with, I think it was my noble friend opposite, Lord Cecil, when he said the other day that he thought the system ought to be reversed, and that all these people ought to be exempted except those against whom there is a legitimate ground of suspicion. There would have been no trouble in filling the camps even then, because neighbours are always ready to bear false witness against other people. At all events, if that had been done everybody in the camps would have been under some form of suspicion, whereas now it is openly admitted—it has been admitted in this House and in another place—that we have detained thousands of people who are recognised as being innocent, and yet they do not come out. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to give some reassuring statement upon that point. For that is really the important point. All these Councils of Welfare and Committees of Judges and so forth are really subsidiary. What is wanted is a sort of gaol delivery, and what is especially required is that it should take place soon.

I feel that I owe the House an apology for returning to this question and for making the same speech over and over again. But after long experience I have realised that nobody gets anything done until he makes himself more or less an intolerable nuisance; and even though I may have few supporters, I am perfectly certain that the vast majority of decent-minded people in this country feel as I do upon this particular point. I do not intend to cease my efforts although I may not get much support, because I feel that I am in the right, and I have a lurking hope that the efforts that I and my friends have made have not been entirely wasted.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I most heartily agree with, I think, everything that has fallen from my noble friend, and I do hope that the Government will be able to tell us in detail what steps are actually being taken to hasten the release of those who ought not to be interned; because it is common ground with everybody that there are a considerable number of people—how many I do not pretend to say—in regard to whom there is really no ground for internment whatever. I was glad that my noble friend pointed out that these new Committees are really quite irrelevant to this particular issue. Neither the Committee of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, nor Mr. Justice Asquith's Committee is dealing with the release of any particular internee nor has either any power to make any recommendation on the subject. Lord Lytton's Committee deals with welfare, and Mr. Justice Asquith's Committee deals with the question of categories.

My noble friend said that there were some 200,000 appeals. I do not know how many appeals there are, but nobody is going through those appeals and saying, "Well, it is quite clear that these people ought to be released immediately, and others about whom there must be a doubt must of course be examined carefully." I cannot help feeling that if my noble friend's account is correct—and I have heard exactly the same account of the procedure that has now been adopted—it will be months and months before these cases are disposed of. And they are not disposed of in order of what one may shortly call their guilt, or the suspicion against them. They are disposed of quite casually, so that the case of the man who most clearly ought to be released immediately may well not be reached for months and months, and he will be maintained in prison during all that time. I cannot help feeling that this is a scandal, and that we really ought to do something effective to put a stop to it. It is not a question of clemency. The noble Duke, the last time this question was discussed, assured us of what I personally accept most fully—namely, that the Home Secretary is moved by the humanest motives and has no desire to keep anybody in prison who ought not to be in prison. No one doubts that. It is not a question of clemency, it is a question of freeing those people who ought never to have been in prison at all. It is not a question of extending favour to them; these people ought not to have been interned at all.

I will just give your lordships three instances which have come before me in the last twenty-four hours—because if anybody says anything about this subject he immediately gets a flood of letters, and I have no doubt many of your lordships have received many more letters than I have. I happen to have received in the last twenty-four hours three communications—they were not all letters. I will not mention names, but I will tell your lordships the substance of these cases. The first I will mention is the case of an Austrian, a perfectly peaceable Austrian, quite friendly to this country. When his country was taken over by the Nazis he retained his Austrian passport. Of course at that time he was not an enemy alien at all, and could not have been an enemy alien; he was a perfectly friendly individual. He retained his passport, and refused to give it back to the Nazis; he left the country with the Austrian passport, which I believe he still has in his possession. He came to this country two or three years ago. Since that time he has been employed—I happen to know it myself—in propaganda against the Nazis and in favour of this country, and I have every reason to believe that he is a most devoted friend of this country. That is one case. I believe that a very short inquiry would demonstrate the facts that I have put before your Lordships, and that man, in my submission, ought clearly to be released.

Let me give your Lordships another case, which is rather different, but it is quite fantastic to keep the man in gaol. It seems there was an Englishwoman who twenty or thirty' years ago married a German, and a son was born to them. The man was of course a German citizen. She divorced her husband very shortly afterwards, and thereby recovered British nationality, and she is a British subject. She came with her son, I do not know how many years ago, but a great many. He was a little baby then, and he is now a grown man. He came to this country, and was brought up as an Englishman. He was taught English, and to this day he cannot speak a word of German. He does not know anything about Germany, and has never been there. This man is technically a German subject because he was born to this woman before she divorced the father and not after. If he had been born to her after she had divorced her husband, the child would have been a British subject. He has been imprisoned. He has been placed with a lot of Germans. He cannot say a word to them, and they cannot say a word to him. Really it is quite fantastic. It is playing with words to talk about that man as an enemy alien.

I was told a few hours ago of a third case of a different kind. It shows the kind of mess we are in. It seems that some Belgians, early in the war, were wrecked at sea and struggled to an English port. They had lost everything. They had nothing in their possession at all. They had no papers. Of course they had no papers. They were thereupon sent to gaol as aliens in this country without papers. They are still in gaol, not on any of the special grounds, but simply on the ground that they are aliens. I am not accusing anybody of wickedness. It is just the muddles that have taken place over and over again which ought to be put right by some summary procedure. That is what I am submitting. I do not go back for a moment on what I said the other day, that to take short cuts only leads to injustice, and that you should not intern anyone unless there is some suspicion against his character. I still think that that would be the right thing. My noble friend (the Duke of Devonshire) thought there would be great difficulties in that. I hope he will tell us what these difficulties are, and whether some way of getting round them cannot be found. If that cannot be done, is it not possible to send some person in whose impartiality, knowledge, skill, and experience we all have confidence, round these various camps, and say, "Well, now, let us just go through the list of people you have here, and let me hear, broadly speaking, what is the prima facie case against them"? If the thing is perfectly clear, he should have authority to advise the Home Secretary to release these people immediately. That would get rid of the clearest cases. Then you could examine the cases which were not quite clear and which ought to be examined.

I put that suggestion forward. I am quite conscious that it may not be acceptable, but I venture once again to press on the Government that this is a very serious matter indeed. It is not just a question of whether a few wretched creatures are to suffer unmerited hardships or not. It is much more than that. It is really doing much harm to the reputation of this country. The thing becomes known, inevitably, through the discussions which take place here and elsewhere, and the facts are used against us by our enemies in every neutral country. I am informed—my noble friends on the Treasury Bench will know whether I am rightly informed or not—that it is producing very serious results in several countries. I beg my noble friends, not only in the name of humanity and justice—I am sure they are as much moved by these as is anybody in this House—but also in the name of expediency, merely with a view to winning the war at the earliest and most effective point possible, to go into this matter and try to correct the more salient injustices as rapidly as possible, leaving anything that is possibly open to doubt to be fully examined in the future.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Duke one question as regards expedition? What method is being adopted in the Home Department as regards the re-examination of these cases? Do they all have to go up through the one bottle-neck before they get to the Secretary of State, or are there a number of officials who have got the power to examine the cases and so expedite the rate at which they are dealt with?

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for one moment only to reinforce the appeals made from all sides, and to assure the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that I am perfectly certain that his re-raising this issue is not ill-timed or misplaced. In view of the sympathy expressed from all quarters with the Motion I had on the Paper last week, I am certain the matter has a great deal of support and that your Lordships will not resent its being brought up again after such a short time. In withdrawing my Motion last week, I said that it seemed to me—and it seems to me again to-day—that the burden of the complaint that came from all sides of the House was the lack of expedition with which these people would be released. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, have pointed out that there are a great number of people in these camps about whom there can be no possible question. The right reverend Prelate (the Lord Bishop of Chichester), speaking in your Lordships' House last week, gave a number of cases. I would ask the noble Duke whether these persons have, in fact, been released. I know that a week does not seem a long time to Government Departments. The mills of Government Departments are well known to grind slowly. But I expect your Lordships have received, as Lord Cecil said ho had received, and as I have received, innumerable letters on this subject, all of which contain accounts of conditions in the camps. These accounts make it clear that a week under the conditions which exist in some of these camps for the aged, the infirm, and the afflicted who have been put into them, is the greatest possible hardship. There are cases about which there should be no hesitation and for which there is no excuse.

I should like an assurance from the noble Duke that all these persons, at least, will be released immediately, and, what is more, when the order for release is made, that that order shall go through. I had, only to-day, an account of such an order which apparently was made at the beginning of July, and it was received only yesterday—six weeks later. Who was responsible for this appalling delay? Here is some unfortunate man whom the authorities responsible decided six weeks ago was an unsuitable person to intern, and he has been in hell for six weeks. Somebody should be made to smart for mismanagement of this kind. We have all a great deal of sympathy with the Home Office who have taken over this appalling mess and muddle from the military. One does not know what was the cause of this mess. One can only suppose that all the efficient officers were occupied with work which the military considered more essential, but there is no doubt that appalling muddle and appalling injustice ensued. People have had their property and their clothes taken from them. Their papers have been taken from them and have been lost. In many cases I have evidence to show that registration papers and identification papers which have been taken cannot now be found.

We have the deepest sympathy with the Home Office in the task it has been given to clear up the mess; but there are certain cases which evidently are cases that should be released immediately. I would like to address one word to my noble friend our ex-Leader (Lord Snell) who is now sitting on the Government Benches. I am aware that his party and mine has been making representations in the case of certain persons who are still in prison, and concerning whom we have very complete dossiers and of whose bona fides we are absolutely convinced. The representations of our Party, which is now represented in His Majesty's Government, are, so far as these men are concerned, ignored. The reply that is being received is that these cases must wait on the Asquith Committee's decision, but that Committee, as your Lordships have been informed to-day, has no jurisdiction. To say that these cases must wait on the decision of this Committee is, therefore, absolutely ridiculous. The case which I put up to my ex-Leader is that he and the other representatives of our Party in His Majesty's Government should insist that the representations which come from the headquarters of our Party should have proper attention paid to them. Your Lordships or the other side of the House may consider that the opinions we on this side hold are more or less pernicious, but at least your Lordships cannot doubt that no one can be more certainly anti-Nazi than those who were imprisoned in Nazi countries. No one would stand to lose more than these people—including even their lives—if the Nazis succeeded in coming here. These people are more certainly anti-Nazi, more certainly our friends, than anybody else in the world. There can be no question about that.

I have just one other case to which I would like to draw your Lordships' attention. I had to mention when I spoke in this House last the case of businesses which had been taken over, and which, in many cases, have been put into the hands of business rivals. I have a case here the details of which I will send to the noble Duke. I will not give them here, but it is the case of a firm whose technical director is a German. The chemical processes used in this business were his invention and his property. He has been interned. His partners are English. One of them is married to a German, but they are English. This firm has been put under the control of Imperial Chemical Industries and I am told there is every likelihood that it will be wound up. It would seem to me that this internee, on whom the whole of this business depends, comes under Category 14 in the White Paper, and I should like to ask the noble Duke whether this man will be released. Undoubtedly his business employs a considerable number of English people, and there are English people whose living is vitally involved in the continuance of this firm. The other directors, as I said, are British. Will this man be released immediately, so that this business need not be wound up but can continue?

I am sorry I said I had only one case to mention now; I find I have another which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention. This is the case of one John Heartfield, who is the inventor of what is called "photomontage," and he is one of the best known anti-Nazi cartoonists. His cartoons have appeared in English papers. I venture to suggest that, as propaganda, there is very little which is more effective than the cartoon. This man is interned, and I suggest that his internment is not only unnecessary but definitely disadvantageous to ourselves. It may be my Scottish blood, but whatever it is there is one thing in the world that I think revolts me almost more than anything else, and that is waste, not merely, as in this case, the waste of public money which is being spent on keeping in concentration camps persons who can support themselves outside, but the waste of the useful work and the invaluable assistance that these proved enemies of Nazism can give to us in this time of trouble. I hope His Majesty's Government will give us some assurance that this matter will be expedited, that it will not be made to wait on the Asquith Committee, or on this or on that. There are certain cases about which there can be no possible question and those cases should be released immediately.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, on broad grounds I think the position as now set forth by my noble friend Lord Newton, and especially by my noble friend Lord Cecil, offends the sense of justice of this House. I will not go into details, though I know of some cases. I think the difficulty can be got over, and I will put my view in the form of a question to my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire. You now have 30,000 cases, and how is it possible to deal with them with only one or two Committees? How many are there to look into these things? There should be not one but 50 Committees. You can always get men of the type we want, as described by Lord Newton, to look into these cases. I am positive there must be a number of innocent cases which can be dealt with and released without a moment's delay if there were the means for dealing with them. The fault lies, as it so often does in the case of Government Departments—I have been in a Government Department and I do not like to say anything against Government Departments—not so much in lack of imagination, as Lord Newton suggested, as in stupidity. It is no good people being able if they have no imagination. What we want is a solution of the difficulty of getting innocent people set free who, without any doubt, ought not to be locked up. If that is to be done, not one or twenty Committees but fifty Committees should be got to work at once.

4.57 p.m.

LORD DAVIES, in whose name stood the following starred question: To ask His Majesty's Government whether the Advisory Council and Committee created to deal with friendly aliens and refugees are concerned chiefly with the welfare of interned prisoners, or with the question of what further categories may be released from internment, said: My Lords, I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but I have put a question on the Paper which deals with this subject, and perhaps the noble Duke when he comes to reply will also reply to that question. My object in putting it was to try and investigate what is the precise composition of the Advisory Council and Committee which the noble Duke told us the other day had been set up to deal with this matter. The impression he left upon our mind was that these two bodies have been set up in order to deal with the question of releasing internees who had been improperly interned, but in another place, in a reply to a similar question, it was said that this Council and Committee were to deal with the welfare of the interned prisoners. The two things are quite distinct, and what I want to ask is whether these bodies are intended to deal with the release of these persons or merely to deal with the amelioration of conditions in the camps.

I do not think the noble Lord has any need to apologise for having brought up this question again, because from the speeches to which we have already listened it is quite clear that your Lordships' House feels there has been grave injustice, and that no time should be lost in endeavouring to put right the injustices which have been committed. I am told that the bitterness is growing from day to day not only amongst the internees who have been wrongly interned but amongst the people of this country. It is a general topic of conversation in the country. As my noble friend Lord Cecil pointed out, this is a matter of extreme urgency, and power should be given to appropriate persons to go into these cases and deal with them without any delay. I could mention a number of cases that have come to my knowledge, but I will refrain from doing so, because we have already heard of a number of cases which demonstrate quite clearly that this matter brooks of no delay. After all, we surely have to make amends to these unfortunate people who have been interned without any inquiry. We are only playing Hitler's game if we do not make amends to these people and deal summarily and promptly with the problem which now confronts us.

5 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Duke replies I should like to ask him if he can give any information in connexion with Italian internees. I believe some progress has been made—although I do not know exactly what it is—in connection with German and Austrian refugees, but I do not think that Italian refugees have found anyone to champion their cause. I do not want to be a nuisance or to delay your Lordships, but I have one particular case very much on my conscience because I have known the Italian concerned for a good many years. He married an Englishwoman, who on the outbreak of war applied for the resumption of her British nationality, but was told that that could not be gone into until her husband's position had been settled. I have been in communication with the Home Office and I have also written to one of the members of Mr. Justice Asquith's committee, but I cannot find that any progress has been made whatever and nobody seems to know what procedure can be adopted. From my knowledge of the man—over, I should think, nearly twenty years—I am convinced that a wrong has been done which ought to be righted. He was in this country in the last war, with an official appointment for which he was decorated. He applied for naturalisation a couple of years ago, once he had finally thrown off the dust of Italy from his feet, abhorring the Fascist régime, but he is now interned and I have been unable to give his wife any special grounds for hope. I should be very much obliged to the noble Duke if he can say that the situation of Italians is being dealt with just as much as—indeed I should hope even more than—that of Germans and Austrians. I am sure that a great wrong has been done in this case.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has assured me that he is making every effort to expedite the consideration of appeals from aliens of enemy nationality who are interned under the Royal Prerogative. These appeals, I think your Lordships understand, are not made to either of the two new bodies set up but to the Home Secretary himself, who is of course assisted by his Department. It is, however, open to the Home Secretary when a difficult case arises to refer it either to the Advisory Committee under Mr. Justice Asquith or to the Committee over which Mr. Norman Birkett presides. That is not the normal procedure, but it is the procedure in cases where there is some special difficulty. Certain categories of internees who are eligible for release have been laid down in the White Paper, which your Lordships have already seen. These categories are so far as is possible clearly defined, and save in exceptional circumstances it is not difficult to determine whether an applicant falls within one or other of them, though in cases there may be inevitable delays arising from the necessity to verify particulars. The procedure to be followed in making applications for release is also laid down in the White Paper, which contemplates written application to be considered and dealt with in the Home Office.

An expansion of the Aliens Department in the Home Office is proceeding. There were eight members of the Department and nineteen additional officials are being appointed. It will be clear to those of your Lordships who have experience of the Government service that such an expansion of a Department necessarily takes time. These nineteen new appointments are not merely subordinate officials doing merely office work. They are people who, except in some cases where there is difficulty, have power to make a decision. As pointed out in the White Paper, further categories of eligibility for release may be added. Mr. Justice Asquith's Advisory Committee has already made certain recommendations about additions of whole categories and is considering what further categories should be added. This applies to the wholesale release of particular classes. As I have said, Mr. Justice Asquith's Committee was not intended to be burdened with the task of considering individual cases, although the Home Secretary, where he feels some doubt, may refer cases to the Committee as test cases, or because there is some special difficulty or doubt about a case.

Every effort is being made to deal with these cases as expeditiously as possible, but the immense difficulty about this question is that in most cases it really cannot be proved whether a man's sympathies are genuine or not. There can be no doubt that there are cases of refugees—people probably with admirable references—who have been sent over here by the Nazi Government. There can also be no doubt that some of these refugees from the Nazi Government remain German at heart. My noble friend Lord Newton referred to Sir Oswald Mosley as a "national affliction." In my view, and I dare say in the view of some others of your Lordships, almost every Government that I can remember has been a national affliction. I have found them incompetent, unprincipled, predatory and rapacious beyond all reason. I have found them well-nigh intolerable, but I am very far from desiring to see their overthrow by a foreign Power on that account. These refugees have obviously suffered vastly more at the hands of their own Government than anyone suffers at the hands of the British Government, but nevertheless some of them must retain some attachment to their own country. You can be sure that they are not going to express that attachment in letters likely to fall into the hands of the police.

I should be very reluctant to make the lot of these people harder, but it is a mistake to think that it is a perfectly simple matter and that all people who are refugees in this country from Nazi oppression are necessarily one hundred per cent, with us in their desire to see the overthrow of the German nation. I agree that the vast majority deserve our sympathy and earnest consideration, but it is not a simple matter. May I instance a case which arose in South Africa? A German who had been for many years in South Africa was a very important member of the Government. He was employed by an insurance company and was a director of that company until he joined the South African Government. This German had no contact with other Germans in Capetown. He did not belong to their clubs or institutions. His social life was spent entirely among the British community. He played golf, cricket and so forth, and everyone of the directors of his company was so confident of his good faith that without exception they petitioned to secure his immediate release. In that particular case papers in the possession of the police proved beyond doubt that he was a most dangerous man, the pivotal man of the German Government. This matter is not simple. In this particular case papers had fallen into the hands of the police, but there must be many other cases where an individual cannot be relied upon.

My noble friend Lord Wardington asked about the case of Italians. The intention is to apply as soon as possible to Italians the principles of the White Paper. That will involve setting up some machinery, as your Lordships will appreciate. Broadly speaking, there are very few Italian refugees here because there has not been the same régime of oppression and anti-Jewish persecution, so that the Italians do not fall quite within the same category. There is hope, as soon as the necessary machinery can be established, of applying the principles of the White Paper to Italians.

My noble friend Lord Davies—who I understand is not now going to ask his starred question since he put it in the form of a speech during the debate—asked about the Advisory Council and the Committee which have been set up. The Advisory Council is concerned with questions affecting the welfare of aliens in this country irrespective of their nationalities—to consider cases of so-called enemy aliens and others—but one of its functions will be to advise and assist the home Government in the arrangements to be made for the welfare of these persons of enemy nationality who are detained in internment camps; and—this will appeal to my noble friend Lord Newton—to make recommendations on the problems of finding useful employment for them. The Advisory Committee is concerned with advising the Home Secretary on questions concerned with internment policy, including the question of what further categories of persons interned should be regarded as eligible for release. It would be tedious if I detained your Lordships now with this, but I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the terms of reference of both these Committees.

I have told you that it is the earnest desire of the Home Secretary to expedite these questions as much as possible; but he has to be satisfied that a given person can be left at large without prejudice to the national interest. I can assure your Lordships that he and his Department are doing all that lies in their power to ensure that decisions will be made as promptly as the circumstances permit, and that the matter is perpetually before their eyes. I am sure that the debate that your Lordships have had this afternoon will still further focus their attention on the desirability of speed. Your Lordships will be interested to know that my noble friend the Under-Secretary of the Home Department has just returned—I have not seen him since his return—from a tour which he has been making of these camps, which I hope will produce useful results.

[The particulars referred to by the noble Duke are as follows:

The terms of reference of the Advisory Committee (of which the members are the Hon. Mr. Justice Asquith (Chairman), Sir Herbert Emerson, and Major-General Sir Neill Malcolm) are:

  1. (i) To keep under review the application of the principles laid down in regard to the internment of enemy aliens and to make to the Home Secretary such suggestions and recommendations thereon as they think fit;
  2. (ii) to advise the Home Secretary on such proposals for modifying the internment policy as he may refer to them from time to time; and
  3. (iii) to examine, and make recommendations upon, such individual cases or groups of cases as may be referred to them from time to time by the Home Secretary.

The functions of the Advisory Council are:

  1. (a) To suggest measures for maintaining the morale of aliens in this country so as to bind them more closely to our common cause.
  2. (b) To review and if necessary to suggest measures for the co-ordination, to the end described in (a) above, of the work of the various refugee committees and other voluntary organisations concerned with aliens in this country.
  3. (c) To maintain contact with the various Government Departments having responsibilities in connection with refugees and other classes of aliens and with foreign Governments or National Committees established in this country.
  4. (d) To advise and assist the Home Office in the arrangements made for the welfare of enemy aliens in internment camps.
  5. (e) To study, and make recommendations upon, the problem of finding occupations for enemy aliens in internment camps.

The members of the Advisory Council are: Lord Lytton (Chairman), Sir Herbert Emerson (Vice-Chairman), Mr. H. W. Butcher, M.P., Lord Cranborne, M.P., Mr. E. Edwards, Mr. H. Graham White, M.P., Mr. G. Lathan, M.P., Mr. P. J. Noel Baker, M.P., Mr. Neil Maclean, M.P., Sir Neill Malcolm, Miss E. Rathbone, M.P., Lady Reading, Mr. H. U. Willink, M.P., Lord Winterton, M.P., and Lord Wolmer, M.P.]

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Duke that he has not dealt with one point insisted upon by my noble friends Lord Newton and Lord Cecil: that is that Commissioners should be sent to the camps themselves to examine the people there, and should if necessary, I suppose, be supplied with any papers the local police have in their possession. It is quite clear that, whatever the Committee may do as to categories or the Council as to welfare, there must be a number of people in the camps who will not be affected by their proceedings, and many, if they are to wait for an inquiry at the Home Office itself by officials designated by the Home Secretary, will not have their cases heard. It seems to me that there would be no difficulty in getting some Commissioners to go down and look into these cases themselves. I quite appreciate the difficult position my noble friend is in, but I do trust he will make representations on this point and at any rate bring it to the notice of the Home Secretary.


My Lords, I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will carefully consider this question.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Duke's reply was very disturbing, because it shows that there is still a very narrow bottle-neck through which these applications must pass. I understand that these fifteen people have power to make a decision.


With the members of the other Committee added, there are twenty-seven.


There are twenty-seven altogether.


Even so, I understand that the final decision has to go through the Home Secretary and his advisers, and this is bound to take a long time. The Home Secretary is extremely busy; he is also responsible for home security, the whole of the air-raid precaution services, the police, the administration of the Factory Acts and of I do not know what other Acts. He is one of the busiest and most over-burdened officials in the Government. If the decision goes through him, through one of his Undersecretaries, or even through the noble Duke, there is bound to be a very narrow bottle-neck. I was still further disturbed by the noble Duke's statement about the suspicions concerning certain people who were believed to be friendly and whose cases therefore needed great care. In that case you must enlarge and extend the machinery for dealing with them, otherwise you will have perfectly innocent people languishing for months in these internment camps. I am sure that is not the desire of the Government, and it is certainly not that of the noble Duke.

The noble Duke spoke about people with German affinities. I hope my noble friend Lord Snell, will take this case up: the Austrian correspondent of the Daily Herald, whom I believe Lord Snell knows personally, has been interned; his case has been looked into and he has not been released at all. Then there is the case of a miner who comes from Lord Elibank's neighbourhood. I am sorry the noble Viscount has gone out, as I know he takes a great interest in these matters. This man was brought to this country by his German father as a baby of three when the father came to work in the mines in Lancashire. After the parents arrived, two other sons were born, who are now in the Army. Because this boy was three years old when he arrived thirty years ago with his father, and although he does not speak a word of German, he has been interned; and the indignation among local persons is, I understand, tremendous. There is also the case which my honourable friend Mr. Shinwell discovered in Pentonville Prison a week ago. He went to Pentonville Prison by the permission of the Home Secretary and found there a number of Estonian sailors. Estonia had been trading with this country and had excited thereby the envy of Germany. The ship in which these men were sailing was torpedoed by a submarine and the survivors escaped in two lifeboats. One boat, with a number of officers and some sailors, landed in Sussex and the survivors were taken care of. The other, driven I suppose by a different tide, landed in Kent; the men in it were arrested and are now in Pentonville gaol. The captain and the first officer are going daily to the Home Office and to the gaol trying to get these Estonian sailors out; but there they lie, and we are short of neutral seamen to man neutral ships!

How long is it going to take for all these cases to go through the subordinate officials to the Under-Secretary and then to the Home Secretary, and through all these other Commissioners? I hope that the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Mancroft will be followed. A great many people are available who have positions in this country—magistrates, Members of Parliament, Peers, retired civil servants and people of that sort—who could be put into Committees to examine these cases and report on them. The present departmental machinery, with great respect, is bound to be slow-working and to lead to hardship and to national disadvantage.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, before we depart from this case I should just like to remind noble Lords that we are at war, and have a duty to perform to our own people. The suggestion made by Lord Rankeillour, and I think by Lord Newton as well, that various Commissioners could go down to these camps, examine the cases there and more or less indicate a priority of the kind of cases that would come before the tribunal, would certainly ameliorate the hardship which undoubtedly must occur to all those people who are interned in time of war. After all, in time of war we have to have hardships. We have hardship among our own people, and we must really have a balance in the matter. I am perfectly certain that the Home Secretary is doing all he can to try to ease the unfortunate position of some of those people. At the same time I am sure that if Commissioners went down to these camps, as they did in the last war, and examined various cases, they would then be able to deal in priority with really pressing cases which should come before the tribunal.