HL Deb 27 November 1940 vol 118 cc36-8

LORD NEWTON asked His Majesty's Government whether the War Office or Home Office is responsible for the recruiting of the Pioneer Corps. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the question I have put on the Paper may appear rather an absurd one to your Lordships, but perhaps you will consider it not so absurd as it appears when I explain that the two Departments seem to be in considerable doubt as to what are their own powers. I have an unfortunate acquaintance, a very strong friend of this country, who, without any charge being made against him, was arrested when war started. After passing a good many months in internment he was examined by the so-called Advisory Committee, who at once found there was no charge whatever against him, that he was completely innocent, and who recommended his liberation. He was liberated after a considerable period and was employed for a time by the Ministry of Information. The Ministry of Information was about to send him abroad on some business or other when the Home Office intervened and arrested him again. That was some months ago and he has been waiting all this time endeavouring to get out without any success.

The difficulty in obtaining his liberation was, I thought, perhaps due to some defect of which I was unaware, but having made inquiries at the D.M.I., which is the body which deals with all suspicious persons, I learnt from them that not only was there nothing against him but that he was an exceedingly well-conducted person. In the circumstances I thought his liberation would come in due course; but it did not. Eventually, his service with the Ministry of Information having come to an end, he applied for permission to join the Pioneer Corps. That was a long time ago. As he was unable to obtain any reply I communicated with an influential friend of mine who is connected with the Home Office and asked him if he could expedite matters. My friend replied in extremely polite terms that he was very sorry but it was a matter for the War Office and he could not intervene. He gave me the address of the War Office official with whom I ought to communicate. This gentleman also is a friend of mine and he returned an equally polite reply that he was unable to do anything in the matter and that it was a matter which concerned the Home Office. If that kind of reply is all I can get, what must be the position of the unfortunate people concerned? It only goes to show that the two Departments do not know what their functions are, or did not know a short time ago.

I see my noble friend Lord Croft in his place and, as I have considerable confidence in his activity and also in his judgment, I should like to point out to him the intense absurdity of the position. Here you have the case of a man—and there must be many other cases like this—who is only too anxious to do something for this country. Everybody who knows him gives a good account of him, and obviously he ought to be released, but for some reason it cannot be done. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to explain. At the present moment, despite all the questions that have been asked, ail the complaints that have been made and all the promises that have been given, there are a number of men in this country whose loyalty to this country is beyond dispute but who yet see no prospect of getting out. I hope my noble friend will be able to give me some satisfactory answer on this point. I may say that I particularly dislike bringing up individual cases, and I have not given the name of the man in question, although I will give it to my noble friend in private. There is no other way that I am aware of by which I can call attention to the matter.


My Lords, as my noble friend has indicated, he did not inform me that he intended to raise the case of any particular individual and it is of course quite impossible for me to make any comment on that case to-day, but if he will bring to my attention the specific case to which he refers I will do everything in my power to clear up any difficulty which may have occurred as far as the War Office is concerned. With regard to the question on the Paper, the answer is that the War Office arranges all recruiting, including the reception of alien personnel.


But I was given to understand by my informant at the War Office that the War Office was incapable of dealing with the case because it was a Home Office matter.


My Lords, with the leave of the House may I just reply to that? I gather from the noble Lord's remark that this alien is still interned. If that is so, clearly it has nothing to do with the War Office. Until he is passed out by the Committee to which my noble friend referred, the matter is still in the hands of the Home Office, but the moment the man is out, if he is physically and in other ways desirable as a recruit into the Pioneer Corps, I can assure my noble friend that we shall be only too glad to receive him.


My Lords, have not the Home Office just announced that they are prepared to release various categories of internees if they can be admitted into the Pioneer Corps? There is an obvious deadlock if the War Office say, "We are not going to admit anyone into the Pioneer Corps until the Home Office release him" and if the Home Office say, "We are not willing to release people for the Pioneer Corps until the War Office accept them."


My Lords, I will look into the point which the noble Viscount has made.