HL Deb 17 December 1941 vol 121 cc336-65

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the present position and prospects, of the refugees from Nazi oppression sent out to Canada and Australia in 1940 and to the visits paid on behalf of the Home Office in 1941 by Mr. Paterson and Major Layton respectively; and to ask whether further information is to be made available arising out of the voyage of S.S. "Dunera," and particularly with regard to the compensation to be paid to the internees travelling on that vessel for their losses; and to move for Papers.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, over a year has passed since the last debate in your Lordships' House on refugees from Nazi oppression and during that time much has happened. In Germany itself Nazi hatred and persecution have steadily increased, and we have learnt of the deportations in terrible circumstances to Poland, and of a new order deporting all between fifty and sixty years of age. In France and in French North Africa there are 90,000 refugees of Jewish origin, nearly half of them in internment camps and suffering conditions of hunger and disease, and mortality as well, to a most piteous extent. I have read reports of camps in the Pyrenees and I know relatives of many of those who are there interned. I mention these facts only to emphasize the general severity of the lot of these refugees, for such facts should increase our desire to do anything possible for those who before the war came to this country as the home and citadel of freedom.

I wish indeed that we could give the refugees from Nazi oppression—refugees, I mean, who are considered by the Government to be genuine refugees—the protection and legal status of friendly aliens. This country has always had the tradition of hospitality and humanity. It is true that in war-time the security question is of paramount importance, but the tradition survives. In the United Kingdom we received before the war, one way or another, very large numbers of refugees, and there was a great increase after the pogroms of 1938. And I should like to say how deeply the refugees themselves appreciate our hospitality, and how profoundy grateful they are. I should also like to pay a tribute to the humanity and generosity of the Home Office administration at that time, and to express the recognition which all the refugees have felt since the difficult days at the outbreak of war, for the most generous action adopted by the Government on the financial side, as a result of the consultations between the Home Office and the Treasury and the refugee organizations.

It was the security issue after the lamentable events in Belgium, Holland and France in the spring and summer of 1940 that led to the substitution of a policy of general internment for a policy of dealing with special cases. I have always regretted its wholesale character, but I do not want to go into that now. I hope that I appreciate the difficulties of the Government and the administration in a time of grave national peril. I realize the care and sympathy which the commandants and the officers of the internment camps exercise, and have continuously exercised, and the high sense of responsibility with which the various tribunals have discharged and are discharging their tasks. The position to-day in the internment camps of the United Kingdom is that under 600 male refugees, German and Austrian, remain interned, and the releases still continue. But there is a body of German and Austrian male refugees, interned at the same time as the rest, now no longer in the United Kingdom, whose circumstances seem to demand special attention, and it is of this particular body that I desire to speak.

New steps were taken in June and July, 1940, for the deportation of about 5,000 of the total number of German and Austrian refugees to Australia and Canada. All of these were men of a similar character to those who were left interned in the Isle of Man and at Huyton. No blame or stigma of any kind was attached to them, and the Government have publicly acknowledged this. But, in spite of this absence of any stigma, the circumstances of the deportation and the landing were most unhappy. I do not want to dwell on the past now, except to mention first that before they went to Canada or to Australia these refugees received many promises from those who were responsible administratively for sending them and choosing them. Many of them were told that their wives were to follow them to Australia, that they would have more comfort and freedom in the Dominions, that their prospects of re-emigration were immensely enhanced, and that their prospects for the future were much brighter. These assurances were made to me actually in Huyton Camp, when I was on a visit there, by the highest military authority, who was on a visit at that time, and I know full well that, if made to me, they were also made to people intimately affected, like the refugees themselves.

I also wish to mention, but only to mention, the circumstances of the voyage. Those who went to Canada on one of the transports, S.S. "Ettrick," had a hard and painful voyage in many ways, and on landing they were deprived of their property in many cases by the Canadian soldiers. The voyage of the "Dunera" has had a great deal of public attention called to it. All the 2,500 refugees who were sent to Australia were sent in that single ship. I have read the report furnished by some of those who sailed on that boat, and I have conversed with not a few of the passengers. The report and the tales make very painful reading as to the cruelties inflicted or condoned by our own soldiers and the robbery of property.

I wish to say no more about that, except incidentally to ask the Government, first, whether compensation for loss of property has been completely met by those who suffered loss on the "Dunera"; secondly, whether the Government have any information about the compensation given or promised by the Canadian Government in respect of property lost by the refugees who landed in Canada, from the "Ettrick." Thirdly, it is a fact that the "Arandora Star," containing 350 German refugees, mostly of the A class, and therefore not coming under my general topic, was torpedoed by enemy action on July 2, 1940. I should like to ask the Government whether they are willing to accept the principle that those who lost life or property on board through enemy action will receive compensation on the same basis as will be due to civilians who lose relatives or property through enemy action in the United Kingdom. To add to the difficulties which these refugees deported to Canada and Australia were to suffer, and are suffering, the impression which both the Canadian and Australian Governments received, somehow or other, when negotiations for deportation were being made, was that those whom they were asked to receive were very dangerous prisoners of war. So, through an unfortunate misunderstanding which it has taken a very long time to correct, the refugees—I am speaking of the genuine refugees who are our friends and, in spirit, our allies—were regarded as the enemies of this country instead of enemies of the Nazis of the deepest dye.

I submit that in these very circumstances of the deportation and the voyage, these refugees had a very hard deal, but I remember it is war-time, and the refugees themselves thoroughly appreciate this fact. It does them—it does not surprise me—great credit when they repeatedly affirm their willingness to bear almost anything if only Britain can win the war and the Nazis be defeated. I had an illustration of this in a conversation with a friend who had returned from Canada. He said to me the other day, "No country except Britain would have done so much to rectify its mistakes." Still, I personally maintain that justice is justice, and that Britons must be jealous of the honour of the British cause. I have also seen a refugee—one amongst a few who have recently returned from Australia—and he said to me, "We want to forget all about the 'Dunera' if only we can get justice for ourselves and our friends."

As was the case in Huyton and other internment camps in the United Kingdom, there were, to start with, difficulties in the conditions of the camp—difficulties with regard to communications, correspondence, visits, etc. These conditions proved, as they hoped, of a temporary character, and the conditions in the camp in both the Dominion and the Commonwealth have been greatly improved. But, as was the case with regard to the refugees interned in the Isle of Man, it is not the conditions on which emphasis is laid by the refugees: it is always the question of release. These men deported to the Dominions see the steady release of their brothers, their fathers, their friends, men just like themselves, and as the months pass by—it was July, 1940; it is now December, 1941—they have a feeling of impotence and of isolation and neglect, a feeling that they have been forgotten by their friends. They suffer especially from the feeling of inability to give the contribution they want to give to the British cause.

In November, 1940, the Home Office sent Mr. Alexander Paterson to Canada, and there is universal testimony to the infinite pains which Mr. Paterson took, universal appreciation of the consideration he showed, his accessibility to everyone, whatever his age or whatever his importance. It would be impossible to exaggerate the amount of good that he did, or the skill and success with which he smoothed away the prejudices which he found. He was able, among other things, to alter the status of the refugees from prisoners of war to acknowledged refugees. He returned to England last July, and I should like to ask the Government whether there is any hope of any report of his activities being published. In April, 1941, the Home Office sent another representative, Major Layton, to Australia. He was a man who had already experience of work among refugees in this country, and he knew conditions in Australia. He went with great good will. His task is still incomplete. He has had many difficulties with which to contend—difficulties of distance from the Home Office and from means of contact with other people, and, of course, still greater difficulties with regard to shipping. But those who serve the refugees in Australia—and I think particularly of Bishop Pilcher, Bishop Coadjutor of Sydney, who has taken a very active part during the whole time—say that all the help and encouragement in our power should be given to him. I should like to ask the Government whether they have any information they can give about the present position of Major Layton's Mission.

I know a number of these refugees in Canada and Australia. I have seen several since their return. In Canada it is plain that the food is excellent, though there are some slightly disquieting signs. There is a delay in forwarding applications for release, there is a desire for more facilities for exercise, and in particular there is a desire for a stricter separation of the Nazis from the anti-Nazis. I have had attention rather specially called to a recent incident in which seven refugees who were transferred from refugee Camp A, consisting of Jews and non-Aryan Christians, to Camp S, which is a camp for prisoners of war and Fascists, the reason given being that they were hindering the war programme, but the real reason, according to the statement I have received, is that they demanded the removal of the Nazi sympathizers of aggressive character from the camp, because they were in too close touch with the files and too repressive of those who desired to volunteer for the Pioneer Corps. When these seven refugees were dispatched to this other Fascist Camp the whole of the camp had a hunger strike in sympathy for two days. I fear there is still an inability in some important official circles to recognize the difference between refugees who are our friends and the Nazis who are our foes.

In Australia the situation again, with regard to the food, is excellent. The conditions in the Camp at Tatura are very much better than they were in the camp at Hay. The officers of the staff, it is generally agreed, are kindly and humane, but in certain quarters there is still the imperfect discrimination between friend and foe to which I have referred. But it is the prospects of release which are all important and which cause the chief anxiety, and also the peculiar hardship which is the direct result of the deportation from England in July, 1940. Many of the deportees were chosen because they were due to emigrate to the United States of America or elsewhere, but, such was their bad luck, extraordinary and unexpected difficulties appeared, disappointment after disappointment occurred, and it seems that in all but a trifling number of instances America has refused to receive refugees because they are interned or were interned. F2xcept that a few have found their way from Australia, none of the large number of men who have gone to Canada, hoping it was an easier way to the United States, have even found their way to the United States, and they are still waiting.

As to the release question generally, I should like your Lordships to compare the circumstances of those who remained interned in the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man with those of the refugees deported. About ninety-two per cent. of all the German and Austrian refugees who remained interned in the United Kingdom have been released. About fifty-four per cent. of those who were deported to Australia and to Canada have been released. In England the releases began in July, 1940. Outside England, except for the few whose release was authorized actually on the voyage, the first transport to reach the United Kingdom from Canada arrived in January, 1941. The first transport to reach the United Kingdom from Australia arrived in August, 1941. Now out of 21,000 to 22,000 interned refugees in the Isle of Man 600 men alone remain un-released (and there releases are still being granted) and about a thousand women, but in Canada there are 1,400 men un-released and in Australia there are 1,500 men unreleased.

I appreciate—I should like to say it again—the fact that there is a war on. I also appreciate the fact that in these last few days the war has greatly extended. I appreciate also the difficulties of shipment. In these very difficult times no one would underrate the difficulties, but if in July, 1940, it was possible to ship 2,500 men in one ship to Australia, it should be possible in the present difficulties to ship a less number back in perhaps two or three ships. I should also like to state that I am informed by refugees who were on the "Stirling Castle" itself, which returned from Australia the other day, that shipping space on these transports is not always used to the full. In that vessel there were, I am informed, at least 150 cabins empty which might have taken another 150 refugees to this country last month. I also appreciate the fact that it may be said that many of these refugees, owing to the new circumstances of the war, will not want to cross the ocean. That may be so, but I should like the onus of decision to be put upon them. I also fully recognize the necessity for security in special cases. I am only asking for consideration to those who are friendly to the Allied cause, and against whom no slur or suspicion on security grounds can be alleged. Many of them feel the slur on their character which deportation seems to imply, and they desire rehabilitation. It would be well for the Government to emphasize again that no stigma of any kind is attached to those who were deported.

I do not ask for anything that is impossible, but I call attention to the contrast in chances of those deported to Australia and Canada with the chances of those who were left in the Isle of Man. The war may be a long one, and the position of those in the Dominions will be accordingly worsened; yet they are the some type of men. At a distance from this country it must be recognized that it is far more difficult to frame the application for release. Correspondence with many delays, to clear up points, is necessary, and I cannot help thinking also that the difficulty of communication with friends and advisers at home is an extra handicap. It is impossible to get in touch with employers, and, even if all categories are formally applicable to grants of release, the machinery is very difficult in some cases, and especially where employment is concerned. I would like to ask the noble Duke to take note of this. I would like to see a standard questionnaire or form of application for these deportees in addition to a personal letter stating their case, so that at any rate the Home Office can know the facts and circumstances which it must regard.

My questions with regard to release are these. There are not a few whose release has already been authorized by the Home Office under various categories, but they still remain unreleased in Australia or Canada. Can anything be done to give these men the benefit of their release, or freedom from the general restrictions while they remain in Canada or Australia? As to the rest, there is the A Class. It is very likely that the majority in this class are dangerous persons, but mistakes have been made in the A classification not infrequently. Is there any chance of a review of A cases on appeal? With regard to the B and C classes, I should like to ask whether it would not be possible that all in these two classes who so desire should be returned to this country with a view to their cases being examined for release in England. There are much greater facilities and possibilities here. This step alone as an act of justice would make an immense difference.

So far I have been dealing almost entirely with matters in which the Government of the United Kingdom are concerned, but in view of the extension of the war further considerations present themselves with renewed force with regard to possibilities in the Dominions. I realize that these are matters as to which the sole authority rests with the Dominion or the Commonwealth Government. I realize that the Dominion and the Commonwealth Governments have the same need of security as the Government of the United Kingdom, but experience in the United Kingdom shows how minute a fraction of the refugees have been permanently interned on security grounds. I suggest that the names of any definitely black-listed refugees might well be made available by the Home Office to the Governments of the Dominion and the Commonwealth.

There is another consideration which is derived from experience in this country, and that is the value of the contribution to the war effort made by refugees. I can speak of this with some experience, for I know many who are serving this country with all their ability at this time and making a powerful contribution to the national effort. I would like, if I may, to quote what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said in another place on November 27, together with an interjection by Mr. Sorensen and a reply. The Join: Parliamentary Secretary said: The result up to the present is that in addition to service in Armed Forces, many thousands of foreign men and women are making a most useful contribution to our war effort in many fields It is remarkable how smoothly this process of absorption has taken place in-spite of differences of language and custom and my right honourable friend looks forward to the continued co-operation of British employers and workpeople in the Government's effort to develop this contribution to the utmost possible extent. MR. SORENSEN: May we lake it that most of those foreigners are Austrians or Germans? MR. ASSHETON: I am afraid I have not the figures with me, but, of course, a large number of them are. These men now in Australia and Canada are, in the majority of cases—and these are the only people with whom I am concerned—men of proved character who want to help, who have very various occupations, abilities and qualities, some as engineers, some as technicians, some in agriculture, some ready to train for work on munitions.

Would it, I ask—it is only a personal question which I ask, with much deference to the Dominion and Commonwealth Governments—would it be possible, in view of the need of man-power and the experience of this country with regard to the use of the employment of foreigners, to use the services in Canada and Australia of men whom the Home Office in the United Kingdom has approved, or would approve, for release as men of good character, friendly to our cause and entirely reliable from the security point of view? The Pioneers in England have proved a most valuable asset to the Army. Tributes have been paid to the Pioneers in Parliament and by the War Office itself. Perhaps it would be possible to have a Pioneer Corps in Australia and in Canada. We are all in this tremendous war for freedom, each ready to serve where he can be of most use. I have seen a letter written in October by the Secretary of that valuable refugee organization, the Victorian International Refugee Emergency Council, which states: The Commonwealth Government is now prepared to consider the release on Australian soil of men whose security records are satisfactory, and who possess some special knowledge or skill of use to the war effort. Is it possible in the case of men of ability and good character, friendly to our cause and desiring to serve, that they might be used in Canada and Australia as well?

Further, the proportion of young men, particularly in Australia, amongst the refugees is very large. I have been told that half of those now remaining interned in Australia are under twenty-five—that is, over 700 young men. Of these, eighty students are under eighteen years of age and amongst those students young boys taken from their schools in England on reaching the age of sixteen who now have no occupation and no means of study It is gratifying to see that in Canada a sponsor system has been started for boys and students enabling them to study in Canadian colleges or universities under certain conditions. Is it possible—it is again only a personal question and asked with all deference—in Australia to receive such boys, such students, for the war period only, as visitors only, with the pledge that they would return to the United Kingdom when the war was over? A similar pledge could surely be given and accepted with regard to all other refugees who might be released for the war effort in the Dominion or Commonwealth. I mention these as possibilities, realizing of course to the full that they are matters solely for the Commonwealth and Dominion Governments.

In conclusion, my main point is to appeal to the British Government. I wish again to make it clear that my only concern—and when I say mine, with me are the refugee organizations and friends of the refugees in this country who do such magnificent work to-day—is with men of integrity against whom nothing is found wanting on the security side, who are ardent anti-Nazis and who desire to help our cause. Here are men who have had a very rough deal. They were sent across the ocean with a series of misunderstandings, they have been there nearly one and a half years and they have all these extra handicaps to suffer. It is war-time, but they are suffering for errors not their own. Could not the British Government give all of them, the B and C men in particular, who desire it, and against whom nothing is alleged on security grounds, the means of return to this country with a view to the urgent consideration of their release, and, if the Government are satisfied, the granting of their release? They are of the same type and character as those who were sifted and released in such large numbers in the Isle of Man. Many of them are young, and clamouring to help. Will you not enable them to serve this country and the cause, some as Pioneers, but not only as Pioneers but according to their different gifts, experience and qualifications. I ask it not only, or mainly, on utilitarian grounds, but on the ground of justice and in the name of the great cause of freedom and justice in defence of which we, with Russia and the United States of America and the Dominions and the Colonies, are resolved, with our other Allies, to give all our strength. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of what the right reverend Prelate has put before your Lordships, because I happen to know from personal information of the very wide interest which is felt in Australia in the direction suggested by the right reverend Prelate. It does seem to me that it would be not at all inappropriate if the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs were to discuss with the Government of Australia this problem which affects both of His Majesty's Governments. The right reverend Prelate has given very clearly an account of the circumstances which have led up to the present situation. It is true that our own Government only asked the Australian Government to keep certain refugees, and to return them at the end of the war, but it would surely be fitting that the two Governments should discuss the application of a broad view to the problem which has arisen. There are various points which it does seem that our own Government should bring out. The Australian Government know their own business very well, but it may be that they would welcome discussion and suggestions from this side of the water as a fitting prelude to any action by themselves, as they were only asked to keep the refugees in custody.

There are various considerations and, if I may, I would add one or two to those which have been laid before us. There are considerations which, as I say, would appear to affect both Governments. There is the question if anything can be done on the lines suggested for the employment of suitable refugees in Australia. It is obvious that that is very appropriate to the shipping situation. We know how Australia has been depleted of craftsmen, and what good work Australian craftsmen are doing in various theatres of war. It is a fact that among the refugees in Australia is an extraordinarily high proportion of skilled men—men skilled in very various mechanical trades. I spoke of the interest felt in Australia. It is, perhaps, natural that we should feel that our responsibility was the prime one, and that we were more in touch with information which created sympathy with these anti-Nazi refugees before the war and which has remained since. But that feeling was very widely spread in Australia. The Australians, in great numbers, realize that the problem affects them, and they have sympathy with the victims who suffered from Nazi cruelty—suffered in their own bodies what we only know of by reading. These people, perhaps excited sympathy in Australia in a peculiar degree because of the passion for liberty which prevails there. May I add one other suggestion which might be discussed? A year of very fine work has been done by the Committee which has arranged posts for distinguished German scientists and other academic men at British universities. Is it not possible that the Australian Government might give leave for such men, who are to be found in camps in Australia, to be employed over there if Australian universities wish to find places for them?

Then there is another problem. I have heard very frequently of the generous and humane attitude of the Australian officials in charge of the camps, but the camps are extremely small and they are very crowded compared with those provided by our own Government. Work in the camps is wanted. Much more, it might be suggested, could be done in that way. It is admitted that gross mistakes were made in the emergency moment of the spring of last year in connexion with the sudden arrest of great numbers of men, arrests which in many cases were never reported to their relatives, so that in some instances the relatives did not know of them until they heard of the sinking of the "Arandora Star" and the loss of life consequent upon it. These unhappy things we wish to forget, and it is to the credit of the refugees that they wish to forget them too. But it cannot be denied that there are masses of people who feel that it was a humiliating episode which we would not have thought could occur under Departments of our own. The circumstances were peculiar, and the painful scenes to which the right reverend Prelate has alluded prompt us, all the same, to the feeling that greater activity is desirable. If there is anything further to be done we want to do it. It is suggested that still greater effort by our own Government is called for in promoting action which, in itself, quite apart from any motive of humanity or restitution, is based on reason and the efficient conduct of the war.


My Lords, if any excuse were needed for taking part in this debate, my own excuse would be that for some five or six months in the year 1939 I was Chairman of a Committee which attempted to co-ordinate all the work of the many voluntary organizations working for refugees. That was my first experience of work in Great Britain. It met with many disappointments and was accompanied by many harassments. We were dealing with vast numbers of people who had arrived in this country in most distressing circumstances. The memory of that period, however, is lightened by the recollection of association with many voluntary workers who were devoted and self-sacrificing in the cause of the refugees, and also by a recollection of the great charity and humanity displayed by so many people in different parts of England. One does not forget an interest of that nature, acquired in those circumstances. I can no longer speak for any of the organizations in which the right reverend Prelate has taken so prominent and so sympathetic a part; but my interest still survives, and I should like to say a few words in partial support of what has fallen from him.

I think that all who are interested in refugees will agree, and I think that the great mass of refugees themselves will have agreed, that no complaint whatever can be brought against the policy of the Government up to the time when France collapsed in the spring of 1940. Inquiries were necessary, and had to be made; they were unequal in their results, but, on the whole, every effort was made to give the greatest consideration possible to the refugees. It was after the collapse of France, when we were in fear of invasion, when, indeed, there was imminent risk of invasion, and when there was a real threat of Fifth Column action here, that it was decided to intern all the refugees. Looking back, I do not myself feel that it can be said that that policy was unjustifiable in any way, in view of the circumstances in which the collapse of France and the imminent danger of the invasion of this country placed us. It was, of course, unfortunate that it was accompanied by a number of administrative failures, and that occasionally the action taken showed the results of inexperience, with the consequence that a great deal of real inconvenience—I will not say of real hardship—was imposed on the refugees. On the other hand, I think that they themselves recognized, as many of us. do, that, when the Home Office resumed control of the situation, everything possible was done to rectify those initial mistakes, and subsequently a policy of the greatest liberality was pursued in regard to the release of the B and C classes of refugee. The right reverend Prelate has paid tribute to that, and it is a liberality which I am sure that the refugees appreciate.

I think it may truly be said that the Home Office then went to the extreme limit of safety in the releases that it made. I know that there is in some parts of the country the feeling that it may have gone beyond the limit of safety, but I think that there is a sufficient answer to that in the fact that the Home Office had, through the services of the camp intelligence service, a very full means of information about the internees which it was possible to utilize. I believe that most of us feel that, if risks were run, those risks were justified, and perhaps unavoidable. But, of course, the question which the right reverend Prelate has raised refers to the treatment of those refugees who were not retained in this country, but who were sent to Canada and Australia. I am sure that some of the refugees themselves welcomed that, because it seemed to bring them nearer to the possibility of emigration to the United States of America; but it is unfortunate that there were administrative failures here also, and that promises were held out and impressions given to the refugees which should not have been held out and given.

The incidents on board the "Dunera" and those which followed the arrival of "Ettrick" were inexcusable. I say no more than that because, like the right reverend Prelate, I do not wish to press the point. There is another reason for not wishing to press it here—namely, that there is a small section of the refugees, it must be admitted, who have desired to make use of publicity in regard to these incidents which is directed against the whole of our refugee policy, and which cannot fail to bring discredit on the Government. I am well aware that that desire for publicity about these incidents is not shared by the great majority of refugees, and I know that it is discountenanced by the principal voluntary organizations who are dealing with this matter. I should be very unwilling to do anything to encourage that small section of refugees to whom I have referred to make use of publicity in that manner. Those who are most deeply interested in the refugees, however, will probably be much more concerned with the reparation which has been given to the refugees who suffered from the incidents in question than with the punishment which may have been awarded to those responsible for them. I have had no official information yet on the subject, but some of us have heard that His Majesty's Government have agreed to a generous scale of compensation. No doubt the noble Duke who is to reply will give us further information on that point. I feel that generosity—or, shall I say, a full measure of justice?—in the matter of compensation would go far to wipe out in the minds of the refugees and their friends any feeling connected with those incidents.

As to the further questions that the right reverend Prelate has raised, with regard to the future position of the five or six thousand refugees who were sent to Canada and to Australia, leaving aside for the moment any question of the incidents which attended their voyage there or the impressions that were given to them by error or by carelessness before they went, what is to be their future? Undoubtedly they and their friends in England feel a strong sense of injustice when their situation is compared with that of the refugees who remain here, the refugees, that is to say, of the B and C classes. It is a situation that has been partly produced by the liberality of our own action. As we understand it, they were sent to Australia and to Canada on the undertaking that they should be treated as internees and should not be released in the Dominions, and the two Governments have maintained that position. We believe also that, in spite of some encouraging signs of a change of opinion in the two Dominions, there is a large public which feels that their Governments should still maintain that attitude. After all, we have, I am afraid, to face the position that they are masters of their own policy. Whatever sympathy we may have with the refugees we have to be realistic. We can ask for nothing more than that our Government should take every possible step to put the facts before the Dominion Governments, and that opportunities should be given to the volunteer organizations here to give what publicity is possible in the two Dominions to the facts as they exist here, and as we see them here. We should be able to give to them the fullest possible information as to the measures we have taken to ensure the maintenance of the full conditions of security, and the assurance we ourselves have felt on the subject.

But is it possible to go beyond that? Many of us would like to think that it is possible to influence the two Dominion Governments. We would welcome any change that we saw in public opinion there, but the matter must apparently be left at that stage. It is for them to balance the advantages of obtaining a large quantity of skilled labour at a difficult time against the risks that they feel may attend the release of the B and C refugees. But in spite of our present inability to move the two Dominion Governments, and acknowledging that inability, all of us feel that it is incumbent upon His Majesty's Government to come to their own decisions—namely, that they will bring back to this country as and when they can, and when transport becomes possible, the remaining refugees in Canada and Australia. Some, we know, have already been brought back. It may be difficult at this stage to bring back the rest, but all we can ask—and we do ask it—is that His Majesty's Government will accept in principle their obligation to bring them back to this country.


My Lords, the able and extensive survey by the right reverend Prelate of this important subject and the speeches of other noble Lords have left little ground to be covered. I would, however, like to press upon His Majesty's Government one point which arises out of the right reverend Prelate's speech. As he has pointed out, these refugees, so far from being a particularly desperate crew, were in all probability the pick of the refugees. An entirely false impression of their political position was given in the Dominions to which they went. This, particularly in Australia, appears to have been due principally to misapprehensions on the part of the Press. I believe that many persons at the Home Office and persons interested in the whole refugee problem have made attempts to reverse this opinion. I wonder whether it would not be possible for His Majesty's Government to make some representations to the Australian Government in order that they should facilitate the appearance in the Australian Press of the many and repeated denials in this House and in another place of this false character which has been given to the refugees in Australia. I am certain that a more tolerant, a more appreciative, and a more humane attitude on the part of the people of Australia to the refugees would influence the Australian Government and would make an alteration in the action of the Australian Government towards the refugees, which they themselves probably desire, far more easy.


My Lords, in the course of this debate frequent reference has been made to the refugees of the A, B and C classes, and it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I refresh your memories as to the exact significance of those classes. Class A aliens are those who were apprehended at the beginning of the war, who were not refugees here but Germans who, for one reason or another, happened to be here, and in many cases were German seamen on ships intercepted at sea, in whose case there is every reason to presume that they were, from the Nazi point of view, good Germans, who would desire the victory of Germany, and who are potential enemies of this country. Class A Germans were therefore interned. Class B Germans were those in whose case it was reasonable to presume that they were well disposed to this country. They were refugees from one form or another of tyranny or oppression, and they were allowed to remain at liberty, subject to certain restrictions and regulations. Class C aliens are those whose residence here had been of such long standing and whose services to this country had been so distinguished as to cause us reasonably to believe that they were well-wishers of this country. They were allowed therefore to remain, subject to no police regulations or restrictions. They had to all intents and purposes the same liberty that we British-born subjects ourselves enjoy.

The situation altered, and I think it was inevitable that it should alter, when the Low Countries were overrun and when France collapsed. We had every reason to apprehend an early invasion of this country. We had vividly before our eyes the formidable effects of Fifth Column activities, and, although I think many people regretted the necessity, it was recognized as a necessity that these Class B and C aliens should be interned. No doubt great injustice or great hardship was inflicted in very many cases. No doubt very many of these people who were locked up were sincere enemies of Nazism and sincere well-wishers of this country. But it must be remembered that the Germans—they are very stupid I think in the long run—are formidably thorough and efficient in matters of detail, and there can be no doubt that among the ranks of these unhappy refugees, who won a great deal of sympathy and support in this country, were people who had been very astutely planted here by the German Intelligence Service, and who in case of invasion might have been a very formidable threat to the security of this country.

We are very proud of our British principle that every man is innocent until he is proved guilty, but, as anyone knows who has had occasion to employ spies, the spy is very apt to lie completely "doggo" until he finds that the country on whose behalf he is operating is winning and he can operate with reasonable safety. The Fifth Columnist is innocent until the crisis—the purpose for which he has been planted—has arisen, and it is not possible for the police or anyone else to secure evidence against him. It was therefore almost inevitable that these arrests should take place and, if great danger to the country was to be avoided, the net must be spread very wide and many innocent persons should be included, together with those whose imprisonment was necessary in the interests of security. Of these internees, considerable numbers were sent to the Isle of Man, a very large proportion of whom have now been released. Others were sent to Australia or Canada, and in this connexion I must take the very strongest exception to the term "deportation" which was constantly used by the right reverend Prelate.

At the same time, in these same weeks, we sent to Australia and to Canada very large numbers of children from this country. We did not deport these children. We sent them to places where they could enjoy security from airraids, where they could enjoy a healthy climate, better food, and more safety than at that time seemed probable in this country. We sent these interned aliens away in precisely the same way. We sent them partly, it is true, because we thought it desirable that they should be out of the way in case of invasion, but we sent them also because they would be more secure, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that it would be possible in the two Dominions to afford them a larger measure of liberty in better conditions than would be possible in a small island which at that time lay under the threat of immediate invasion. I say, therefore, I cannot accept the term "deportation." These people were sent abroad—and in many cases it was their own wish they should be sent abroad—because many of them were only here as birds of passage, and their ultimate anxiety was to reach either the United States of America or some country in South America. They thought—as it turns out, I am afraid, in the vast majority of cases they have been disappointed—that by reaching Australia or Canada they would not only be further away from the Nazis, but also closer to the country which it was their intention ultimately to make their home.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lords, Lord Hailey and Lord Faringdon, referred to the case of the "Dunera." That was a case which I have no wish to defend, a case which it is hardly possible to mention without feelings of shame, disgust, and anger, but I can assure noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate that the principle has been recognized that the British Government do owe compensation to those who were victimized, and in the case of those who have returned to England compensation has already, in a very large majority of cases, been paid. There are some few cases in which the War Office, for one reason or another, has not been able to get in touch with the internees, but of the 200 who have returned the vast majority of claims have been met. A further 400 internees have recently arrived in this country, and their cases will be dealt with immediately. There have been hitches in dealing with those internees who remain in Australia. Instructions as to the method of dealing with their claims for compensation were very long and had to be dealt with individually. They were too long to be sent by telegram, and they were sent simultaneously by air mail and sea. Both sets of instructions seem to have been lost in transit, and delays therefore occurred. But we have heard in the course of the last few days that the instructions have now been received and these claims for compensation are being dealt with as expeditiously as possible. I should like to assure noble Lords who raised the question that the principle that compensation is due has been accepted, and compensation is being paid as rapidly as circumstances permit.

Then the right reverend Prelate asked a question about the "Arandora Star" and compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives. There, I am afraid, my answer must be very definitely in the negative. The "Arandora Star" was not sunk by us but by the Germans, pursuing their customary despicable methods of sea warfare, and the responsibility rests entirely with the German Government which uses these extremely barbarous and inhuman methods of carrying on warfare. The Government cannot admit liability for the loss of life on that very unhappy occasion, but there are certain rights to compensation for loss of life caused by enemy action under the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme for which the Ministry of Pensions is responsible. These rights apply even where the persons murdered are compatriots of the murderers. Application may therefore be made under that scheme by the widows or dependants in this country of Germans or Italians who lost their lives in the "Arandora Star." It is understood that some applications have, in fact, already been made and in some cases allowances have been granted by the Ministry of Pensions.

The right reverend Prelate also asked about the visits to Canada of Mr. Paterson and to Australia of Major Layton. I should like to pay a tribute to the work these gentlemen have done. They went, originally, partly at the invitation of the Governments concerned, and they have done most valuable work which has done much to improve the lot of the refugees interned there. The right reverend Prelate asks whether their reports can be published. Their reports deal not to a very large extent with matters of general policy, but much more with the cases of individual internees. They are of a confidential nature intended for the guidance and assistance of the Secretary of State, and my right honourable friend sees no useful purpose which can be served by publishing them. Their information and advice have been of great value to him, but he does not think their reports are of a type which would be of value as published reports.

Then the right reverend Prelate dealt with the case of seven Germans who were transferred from one camp to another in Canada. I am not very fully informed about this particular case, but I understand these internees have, to some extent, been rather "telling the tale." They were found to be men who were making great difficulties in the carrying on of the ordinary discipline of the camp, and they were removed from the camp in which they were. It is not true to say the camp to which they were removed was entirely a Nazi or Fascist Camp. I am told that not more than 25 to 30 per cent. of the prisoners in the S camp, to which they were transferred, were, in fact, Nazis or Fascists by sympathy. Two of these men have subsequently been released, and I am afraid they have to some extent romanced about their alleged sufferings. The story they told was simply not true. Disciplinary action was taken when they were put in prison, and, like many other prisoners, they told a very exaggerated story when released about their sufferings.

The right reverend Prelate also referred to the numbers in Canada and Australia and drew a distinction—this in fact was the main gist of his observations—between the numbers of those who had been released in this country and the relatively much smaller numbers who had been released in Canada and in Australia. The numbers sent to Canada were, in round figures, about 2,250 and of those 1,000 have been released. The number sent to Australia were about 1,950 and of those 700 have been released. In addition, the release of 700 more in these two categories has been authorized, and they will be sent home when shipping facilities permit. A large number of those have been accepted for the Pioneer Corps and will be coming home whenever passages are available. The release of 600 more has been authorized when they can make arrangements to emigrate to the countries, whether the United States or South America, to which it was their original intention to proceed. The right reverend Prelate showed by his words towards the conclusion of his speech that he appreciated the fact that the situation has altered radically in the course of the last few days. The provision of passages on ships seems likely to become very much more difficult instead of becoming easier, and America has, to an even greater extent, closed her shores to the entrance of persons of enemy origin. I am afraid, therefore, that the release of these internees may take longer than was originally contemplated.


May I ask the noble Duke on that point, are the cases of these internees examined so as to make sure they are pure in their beliefs so far as this country and the war are concerned, and have His Majesty's Government any direct action with regard to their release?


I was going to deal with that point a little later when I came to make special reference to the speech of Lord Hailey. His Majesty's Government here does retain control of these internees both in Canada and in Australia. The Governments of Canada and of Australia are helping us by having come very generously to our rescue and undertaken to house these internees for us, but the responsibility for their release rests with the Home Secretary, and these men cannot be released without the direct authority of my right honourable friend. Your Lordships will be aware that there are tribunals which go into the rights and wrongs of these cases, and that there are a number of categories under which internees may be released. That is a subject which has been very carefully gone into and which in this country has resulted in the release of a very large portion of the internees.

The numbers released in Canada and Australia are substantially less in comparison with the numbers here, and that is due to two reasons. It is due partly to the fact that owing to the distances and consequent delays it is much harder for my right honourable friend to review these cases than it is in the case of people interned in the Isle of Man, but there is another reason, which is that in quite a substantial number of cases the internees are not particularly anxious to be released and return here. In the case of the Italians, especially, many of-them are unwilling to face the voyage home, and, although they are not very fond of being interned, they would sooner remain in internment than face the perils of the sea. Others again—and this applies particularly to the cases in Australia—intended to migrate to Australia, and are prepared to suffer such hardships as they have in internment in the hope that when the war is over, having got to Australia, they will be allowed to stay there. I will not deny, however, that there are some who are passionately anxious to be released. I would point out that the figures in relation to Australia and Canada are not strictly comparable with those in this country, because a substantial proportion of those in internment camps in those two countries do not wish for one reason or another to be released.

Then the right reverend Prelate raised the question of man-power, and of more use being made of these internees. The very large majority of those who were interned in this country have already been released, and are playing a part, in many cases a very valuable part, in the war effort, contributing towards the man-power of the country. The process of release is necessarily slower in the case of the Dominions, but, as I have indicated, very substantial numbers have been released, and that process, although it may now be slowed up to some extent, is going on. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that internment has no kind of resemblance to the process of being thrown into prison to moulder away for the rest of your life. All these cases are under constant review, and my right honourable friend has a real desire to release as many of these people as he possibly can, subject to the reservation that he must take it as a fact that many of them are people whose release would be a real danger, having regard to the evidence of their past history and actions in this country. There are, however, many ways by which my right honourable friend can continue the process of weeding out and releasing those whose freedom would not be a danger to this country. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that the process is continually going on, and that no man, having been interned, is condemned to remain in internment in perpetuity.

The right reverend Prelate also raised the question of students. In Canada arrangements have been made whereby a certain number of these internees have been released to carry on studies. I have no information of any similar arrangement having been made in Australia, but the right reverend Prelate, by calling attention to this subject, will have brought it to the notice of the Australian Government. It is a matter with which that Government is concerned, and I have no doubt his observations will reach the Australian Government. Another matter referred to by the right reverend Prelate in his speech was the question whether all the overseas prisoners may not be brought back and released. I think I have to some extent answered that question already by indicating that, when all passages have been found that are wanted, hardly thirty per cent. will remain overseas, but it would be scarcely possible to bring all back, because there must be a residue of people about whose real intentions we can have no security, and there are also those who do not want to return at the present time. I hope I have made the Government's position clear on the majority of points that were made by the right reverend Prelate.

I appreciate very greatly the speech of my noble friend Lord Hailey and I hope I have made it plain to him that we do retain control. He asked in whose hands is there control over prisoners. It does remain in the hands of the Home Secretary. There have been, as the noble Lord said, administrative errors. Hardship has been suffered by innocent people, but I think I can fairly say that speaking generally this very difficult question has been administered by my right honourable friend sympathetically, mercifully, and humanely. He is continuing the review with the object I have described of inflicting no unnecessary hardship, subject to conditions of national security.

If I may speak for a moment as an individual and not as spokesman for the Home Office, I would say that as my former constituency has now no representative in the House of Commons—the member is now serving overseas—not unnaturally many of my former constituents have turned to me with different problems. One of them is the question of internees. I have been asked whether I could do anything in particular cases. I have always found the Home Office most sympathetic, most helpful and most understanding in these matters. They could not always release a man—there may be good reasons why a man should not be released—but I have found them invariably helpful and sympathetic, and I believe that is the general experience. This difficult matter has been handled with sympathy, and I think I can fairly say that, although there have been cases where hardships have been suffered by innocent persons, in no other country in the world have people, who after all are of enemy origin, been treated more kindly, more justly and more sympathetically than here.


My Lords, I wish to intervene for a few minutes only to say that from the reply to which we have just listened and speeches which I heard earlier, I think the point of view expressed this afternoon has been entirely on the side of the internee and not from the side of the people of this country. We are fighting one of the most dangerous and terrible struggles in which we have ever been concerned. I confess that I was one of those who a year and a half ago ventured to address your Lordships on several occasions on this subject, urging that foreigners in this country who were suspected of being concerned with enemy views or enemy doctrines should be shut up, and kept in a place where they would not be a danger to the country and to our effort. At that time quite a number of refugees and people of enemy origin were put under lock and key in order to clear up the situation which really had become very serious indeed, but since then there have been constant propaganda and a constant endeavour to let out all the people, almost irrespective of what their views were, or what they were known to represent, merely because they were refugees and had escaped from Germany, or whatever country it might be under Nazi persecution.

This afternoon we have been told by the noble Duke that the cases of these people are constantly being reviewed and that no internee need expect to remain in perpetuity under restraint. I should have liked to hear from the noble Duke what form of inquiry leads to their release, because after all they were interned originally, for good reasons in many cases, as being a danger to this country. How is it that, as time progresses, by a constant review, these people become of less serious danger to the State? I view with very great suspicion this constant effort to release these people, irrespective of what they have done, or what they have represented. The noble Duke went so far as to say in his reply that the right reverend Prelate need not have any anxiety because so many hundreds were being released from one place and so many hundreds from another place, and that everything possible was being done to get as many as possible released. I venture to suggest that that is not the standpoint from which we as a nation, in one of the most terrible struggles in which we have ever been engaged, should regard this subject. I am not by nature a cruel man, but we are at war and therefore we have got to regard these things from the point of view of the safety and security of this country, and of the lives and liberties of the people of this country.

I suggest to the Government that the question should be, not how many of these people can we release, but how many ought we to release. If the subject were approached from that point of view, I am sure that it would be much fairer to ourselves, to all those who are fighting across the seas, risking their lives, and to those who are risking their lives in this country under bombing attacks and so on, than is the attitude of sentimental sympathy with people belonging to two races at least who have cast all these dangers and troubles upon them. I rose only to say those few words of caution. I do not take exception to much of what was said by the noble Duke in his reply. We are bound to be fair, we are bound to do all we can not to imitate the acts of our enemies, but at the same time I think we can be a little too sentimental on this subject, especially when it is presented as it has been this afternoon, and as it has been several times presented in your Lordships' House during the past year. I hope that the Home Office—they are mainly concerned—will see that there is another side of the question, that those noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships' House on several occasions on this matter do not represent the whole feeling in the country, and that there are a great many others who feel that we ought to be extremely careful in what we do in releasing any of these internees if we have any suspicion whatever about them.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Duke for the very courteous and sympathetic reply which he has given to my questions, and for the attitude which he represents. I should also like to express to your Lordships my appreciation of the great value of this debate. I am sure it will be received with much appreciation outside your Lordships' House. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, was not present when I made my remarks. I think that if he had been present, though he would not have agreed with a great deal of what I said, he could not have complained that I under-did the security side. I have no wish whatever that any internees whom we ought not to release should be released. To my mind—and I believe this represents the attitude of His Majesty's Government—" can "and" ought "in these circumstances amount to the same thing. I am glad Lord Elibank said that he wished the Government to act fairly; that is the desire of all.


My Lords, I did hear part of the right reverend Prelate's speech. I was here for the first part of it.


The noble Viscount tired, I am afraid, before my points got home. It is fairness for which the noble Viscount asks, it is fairness for which the refugees ask, and it is fairness which, I know, the Govern- ment desire to show and have hitherto shown. I am sorry that the noble Duke deprecated my use of the word "deportation." I did not use that word in any especially inimical sense. I might have used the word "transportation," which would have a worse colour. I do not wish to press the use of the word in any invidious sense. At the same time, the noble Duke, I think, gave himself away a little when, in one part of his early remarks, he said that the internees had been sent to Canada and Australia in precisely the same way as the children. Shortly afterwards, he expressed his disgust, hatred and indignation, his feeling of shame and anger, on reading the account of the transport of the refugees on the "Ettrick" and the "Dunera" to Canada and Australia. But I do not wish to press the word "deportation" if it is a word to which exception is taken.

I am very grateful for the assurance which has been given with regard to the compensation of those who suffered losses on the "Dunera," and I am also very grateful for the positive assurance which has been given with regard to losses incurred owing to enemy action against the "Arandora Star." What the noble Duke has now promised is exactly that for which I ventured to ask. I quite agree that the German Government is the responsible authority in connexion with that and with other forms of enemy action, and what the noble Duke has said will be a great relief to those who have suffered loss of relatives or of property by reason of the sinking of the "Arandora Star." With regard to the numbers left in Australia and Canada, as I understand it, there are 1,000 persons left who are unreleased out of the total number, and there are 1,300 persons whose release has been authorized with a view to its being made effective when emigration facilities or other shipping opportunities arise. I very much appreciate what the noble Duke said as to the possibilities—I know that he did not commit himself in any definite way—of dealing in a hopeful manner with the B and C cases, when shipping possibilities exist, with a view to their return, if possible, to this country. I am also very glad to have the reaffirmation of the intention of the Home Secretary to release those who ought to be released, and therefore can be released, whether in the Isle of Man or in the Dominions.

I should like to say that I personally have always found the Home Office very sympathetic and considerate with regard to individual applications with which I have troubled them from time to time. In conclusion, I wholly agree with the noble Duke, and refugees themselves are, I feel, of this opinion, also, that no other country would have behaved with such consider-ateness and such sense of fairness and desire to do the proper thing as our own country. With these remarks, my Lords, I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.