HL Deb 22 October 1940 vol 117 cc560-5

LORD FARINGDON rose to call attention to the case of Dr. Vladimir Clementis, and to ask His Majesty's Government the reason for his internment. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when this Motion was withdrawn last week those of your Lordships who were present—many of whom on previous occasions, when I myself or other members of your Lordships' House, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Newton, raised the matter of refugees, showed so very much sympathy with this question—must, I think, have been profoundly concerned to learn that we have received no answers to the cases that we raised in your Lordships' House. This must have seemed to all your Lordships, as it has to myself, a horrid example of just that dilatoriness against which, I think, all speakers on this subject in your Lordships' House protested most strongly. But the reason that I have ventured to raise this particular case yet again in your Lordships' House is that it seems to me to raise certain questions of public policy.

It was—I say advisedly it was—a question of very considerable complication. The refugee, Dr. Vladimir Clementis, on whose behalf I am asking this question, is a Czech Deputy whom I met here in England at the time of the Munich crisis. He has a certain number of friends and contacts here in England, and was a member of the Czech Parliament for the large manufacturing town of Brno. He is a Communist, and was obliged to flee his country as soon as the Germans moved in. He was fortunate enough to make his way to France, where he was living when the war broke out. He immediately joined up in the Czech Army before there was any question of conscription of Czechs outside Czecho-Slovakia, as did many other Czechs, who came from all parts of the world to join the Czech Army quite voluntarily. I do not know what grounds there have been for the very considerable number of complaints which have been made by members of that Czech Army as to their treatment and as to the way in which that Army was run in France. As I say, I am net in a position to judge as to how well those complaints are founded, but they are so many and so frequent that I cannot help feeling that, unfortunately, there may have been at least something in them. However, the situation was altered when these men, luckily, were able to be evacuated to England. They were informed by a responsible member of what is now the Czech National Committee that the Czech Army had in fact been disbanded. They arrived in England, and they found themselves subject to the Allied Forces Act.

That is an Act against which I ventured to protest when it was before your Lordships' House. Experience of it has led me to feel, I am sorry to say, that my protest was far too weak. I believed then, and I asked the noble Lord who was replying for the Government to say whether it was not a fact, that it was without precedent—and it is without precedent. And whilst probably a very good case can be made for giving such powers over their nationals to Governments which have been in existence in their own country and have managed to escape to our shores—such as the Norwegian and the Dutch—I think that the same does now apply to what, without any wish to reflect upon the personnel of such Governments, can only be described as fabricated Governments—Governments which consist of persons who have no kind of mandate from their own people or at any rate have a rather indirect mandate, if any, from their own people, who may be very considerable and important figures in their own country, but who did not form the Government of that country when it was invaded by Germany, and who are not in any sense a complete Government of that country within our shores. To give such people the very large, and one might almost say sovereign, powers which have been given to them in this country seemed to me at the time, and seems to me now even more, to have been an extremely rash and precipitate act. I am convinced in my own mind that the correct procedure was the procedure followed in the last war when Czecho-Slovak legions were raised and were part of the Allied Armies. The same process incidently is, I believe, followed at the present moment in the Royal Air Force, who have a Polish squadron attached to them.

But this rash Act has given rise to a very difficult situation, because there are a certain number of Czechs who do not recognise the authority of the existing Czech National Committee. Now that Committee, as your Lordships are aware, contains certain well-known Czech national figures, Dr. Benes, M. Masaryk and others. It contains also persons to whom, I must say I think not entirely without reason, a number of Czechoslovaks take considerable exception. There are, for example, two men who continued as Ministers in the Czech Government after the Germans had entered Prague. They have now fled and made their way here. But I think your Lordships will conclude that their anti-Nazi feelings were perhaps not quite as strong as those at any rate of people like Dr. Clementis, who had to flee for his life as soon as the Germans came into his country. That, it seems to me, is self-evident. His Majesty's Government may have had good reasons for persuading Dr. Benes to associate himself with such people, or Dr. Benes himself may have found himself in greater sympathy with such people than he did with, say, the Communist Deputies, because I will tell your Lordships that there are two other Communist Deputies besides Dr. Clementis who are at present interned in England. I am not informed in detail about the other two cases as I am about Dr. Clementis, whom I know personally, but at any rate it may be that Dr. Benes prefers to co-operate with those people, it may be that His Majesty's Government thought that perhaps they were better company to keep than the aforesaid Communist Deputies.

But however that may be, it would seem to me desirable—and I think your Lordships will now agree—that if you were going to set up a National Committee of this kind it should contain all shades of political opinion. On the other hand, I recognise that very probably the gentlemen in question, who presumably belonged to what is called the Extreme Right, would have refused to co-operate with other Deputies who belonged to the Extreme Left. And possibly the contrary is also equally true. But though that may be so I think most of your Lordships will probably agree with me that it is essential in this country, where we claim to be fighting for personal freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of thought—that we should not give the impression that we are in fact favouring in foreign countries one political complexion rather than another. Not only would it be inconsistent, but it would be profoundly inadvisable. I dare say some of your Lordships have seen a book entitled 100,000,000 Allies If We Choose. Most of these 100,000,000 are not gentlemen of the Right, gentlemen who would, if they could, have made a compromise with Herr Hitler. These 100,000,000 allies, for the most part, are far more nearly related, politically, to Dr. Clementis, who had to flee from Herr Hitler, and we shall not have these allies if we intern them and their leaders when they escape to this country.

As to the difficult position raised by ex-members of the Czecho-Slovak Army here in England, the vast majority volunteered for the British Army, and a great many were accepted. That was, in the unfortunate situation which had arisen, a very sensible compromise; but Dr. Clementis was medically examined and was found to be unfit, and his situation therefore is fundamentally changed. He becomes an ordinary internee. He is not fit for service in the British Army, and also not liable for service in the Czech forces. He becomes a common or garden internee, but an internee of certain importance as a Deputy of a country which, as I have said, is by way of being an Ally. It is extremely important that he should be set at liberty and that we should show our willingness to co-operate with all forces in Europe which are opposed to our enemy. It may be that we do not like Dr. Clementis's particular colour of political opinion, but there can be no doubt of his intense opposition to the Nazi régime. Surely the only good reason for interning any persons at this moment in this country can be that they might betray us to our enemy, that they might be in sympathy with our enemy. This cannot possibly apply in the present case, and I do hope, for these reasons, that the noble Duke who is going to reply for the Home Office will be able to tell me that Dr. Clementis soon will be, and probably already has been, set at liberty.


My Lords, I inquired of my right honourable friend at the Home Office the reason for the delay in replying, as he promised, to the series of questions put by the noble Lord, and his explanation is one which I hope the noble Lord will accept. My right honourable friend delayed his reply until he was able to give a complete reply to the various points raised. They were numerous, and some of them necessitated long and complicated inquiry. I have asked my right honourable friend to reply to all the points he can now, and to send a further reply dealing with the points with which at present he is not familiar. I hope my noble friend opposite will realise that there has been no discourtesy, and that the only reason for the delay was that he might get as full a reply as possible.

Dr. Clementis is on the nominal roll of the Czechs detained at Glenbranter camp. He appears on the roll as Vlado Clementis, and it is assumed that he is identical with Dr. Vladimir Clementis about whom the noble Lord asks. This Clementis is one of a number of discontented Czech soldiers who were a centre of disaffection and disturbance at the Czech military camp at Cholmondeley, Cheshire. At the express request of the Czech military authorities, it was agreed that these discontented soldiers should be segregated. It clearly would not have been right for the Czech authorities to demobilise these men and to allow them to be at large as civilians in this country. On the other hand, until the passing of the Allied Forces Act, the Czech authorities had no power to deal with military offences committed by members of the Czech military forces in this country, and if they were to be segregated in a camp and detained there the only available power was that which the Secretary of State had under Article 12(5a) of the Aliens Order. The circumstances were explained to the War Office and to the Home Secretary, who considered them, and he decided to make an Order under Article 12 authorising their detention. It rested entirely with the Home Secretary whether or not he should exercise these powers, and on the information supplied by the War Office he came to the conclusion that it was necessary to segregate and detain them until such time as they could be dealt with by the Czech military authorities.

There were negotiations with the Czech Government and the War Office through the medium of the Foreign Office, and it was agreed that these Czech soldiers should be given an opportunity of enlisting in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. Of the total of 539 Czechs who were segregated and detained in Sutton Coldfield Internment Camp, about 460 have enlisted in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. The others have either refused to volunteer or were unacceptable for medical or other reasons, and these have been removed to Glenbranter Camp. Orders in Council under the Allied Forces Act have now been made, and the War Office have requested the Czech military authorities to take the remainder of these men back into their charge and to deal with each individual case on its merits, so that Dr. Clementis will not be interned for more than a very short time longer.