HL Deb 13 December 1950 vol 169 cc931-51

3.12 p.m.

LORD VANSITTART rose to move to resolve, That more stringent and effective precautions should govern the bestowal of British nationality upon alien applicants. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in submitting this Motion to your Lordships I will be as brief as possible and, I hope, entirely practical. Our system of naturalisation has never worked entirely perfectly, nor would any fair-minded man expect that to be the case—and I wish to be entirely fair. Before the First World War some of us in the Foreign Office felt that the system might be bettered, and that the subject was too important to be remitted entirely to the Aliens Branch of the Home Office; and we thought that the basis of judgment might with advantage be broadened. After the First World War there was no change that I know of. During the eight years that I was Permanent Under-Secretary I was not consulted in these matters; nor, indeed, again to be entirely fair, if I had been should I have had any comment to make in nearly all cases. In one or two perhaps I might have suggested caution; in one or two I might have objected.

But I still adhered to the idea that my friends and I had had for a long while-namely, that we should broaden the basis of discussion. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea if final judgment on questions of naturalisation, particularly in any borderline case, were remitted to a committee which would comprise not only representatives of the Home Office but also those of the Foreign Office, the three Fighting Services, the Board of Trade and, of course, all branches of our security services. None of us had the least desire to deprive the Home Office of its primacy in the matter. It would have gone with-out saying that the Home Office should be in the chair. Our idea, however, never caught on, and there has been a certain reluctance to change with a changing and ever more dangerous world. When I was a free man I brought up that idea in this House, in a Motion which contained a good deal of other controversial matter, and in consequence when the Government came to reply they omitted to cover that point at all. So I am going to press it upon them again to-day, and I hope they will give it very serious consideration. That is one point.

The second is that the regulations pre-scribe that any applicant for naturalisation must have four well-accredited sponsors. I should like to be quite sure that no exceptions are ever made to that rule. I think it might be worth the Government's while to look back into the past a little, and to see whether a case has not sometimes occurred, because those in authority deemed it to be a special case, where a man was passed on rather fewer than the regulation four sponsors. However high the authority might be in such a case, I think that would be a dangerous practice. We have only to look at the cases of Fuchs and Pontecorvo. Were there the full eight sponsors in those cases?




There were. I am very glad to hear that. I suppose that the joint weight of their sponsorship was held to be a sufficient guarantee against the subsequent betrayal. As I said, I wish to be reasonable in this matter, and I am not going to press the Government to reveal the names of those eight sponsors who unfortunately went seriously astray; but I am going to press them to make public the names of sponsors in future. The Government may say that this would not be in the public interest, but that argument will not work with an old professional like myself: I have too often known it employed. As a matter of fact, there could be nothing whatever against the public interest in publishing the names of sponsors. I have sponsored a good number of people at different times during my life and I should never have had the least hesitation in making public the fact that I did stand guarantee for them. Nor, indeed, can I imagine that any man of good faith and good will would object to some publicity in this matter. If he did object I should think there was something odd about his sponsorship. That would be my first reaction. As a matter of fact, these regulations prescribe that any applicant must publish twice in a newspaper the fact that he is making the application. I suggest for your Lordships' serious consideration, that there could be no pos-sible objection to publishing at the same time the names of his four sponsors, because if anybody were inclined to show just cause or impediment why naturalisation should not be granted (which is the object of the publication), the authorities would have a good deal more information upon which to judge. I do not think that is an unreasonable suggestion That is the second point that I suggest to the Government.

The third is, that under the Nationality Act of 1948 the penalty for making any misleading statement with a view to obtaining naturalisation is a penalty not exceeding three months' imprisonment. When one considers the perilous world in which we live to-day, I think that that penalty is altogether too low, and that something more in the nature of a deterrent should be provided. After all. this country at the present time is more permeated with hostile agents than at any time before in its history, and here is a wide-open opportunity for somebody to add to them at a mere cost of three months, or less than three months, if he is caught. I would ask whether that might be taken into consideration also. That is the third point.

The fourth point that I would ask your Lordships to consider is again in regard to the application. Qualification 1 (a) prescribes as follows: The applicant must have either resided in the United Kingdom or been in Crown Service under His Majesty's government in the United Kingdom, … or partly the one and partly the other, throughout the period of twelve months immediately preceding the application. That is entirely reasonable, as your Lord-ships will all agree. Then, Qualification 1(b) requires: during the seven years immediately preceding the period of twelve months mentioned above, the applicant must have resided either in the United Kingdom or in a British colony or protectorate or a United Kingdom mandated or trust territory, or been in Crown Service as above, or partly the one and partly the other, for periods amounting in full to not less than four years. That also is entirely reasonable. Now we have to see how those requirements work out.

In this form the sponsors have to say and sign: I support this application from my personal knowledge of and intimate acquaintance with the applicant for … years. They fill in the blank before the word "years." It might be three or four. It is clear from what I have said that those three or four years could, or might in some cases, relate only to what the sponsors have known of the applicant while he has been in this country. In other words, Mr. Smith might recommend Herr Schmitt of Golders Green, whom he has known, let us say, for four years, and during that time Herr Schmitt's con-duct will have been entirely exemplary. It is true that the form which sponsors have to sign goes on: I vouch for his good character and loyalty and am prepared to furnish full details of my knowledge of and acquaintance with the applicant. As a matter of fact, that provision is, on the whole, rarely acted upon. I have never been asked to give further details myself. Perhaps I may take that as a compliment or a mark of faith. I have a great many friends also who have not been asked to amplify. But my print is that it may well be that Mr. Smith recommends Herr Schmitt, having known him thoroughly in Golders Green for four years, but what does he know of Herr Schmitt's life in Leipzig four years before that, or in Frankfurt, twelve years before that, or in Hamburg fifteen years before that? If he does not know that, I think he should be compelled to state the fact. He should be obliged to point out that he knows nothing of the applicant as regards his life in any other country than this; that he has no knowledge of the applicant's foreign background. I suggest that there should be in this form, or attached to it. a space for giving such of the life history of the applicant as the sponsor knows; and when his knowledge is limited to a relatively short period in these islands, that should be stated clearly.

Let us see again how the present arrangement has worked out. Take the case of Herr Fuchs. He was a refugee. Why was he a refugee? Was he a Jew? —because that would be an excellent reason for it. I do not think so. I have known many Fuchs in my time who were not Jews. It is not a Jewish name any more than Fox is. Was he a refugee because he had Communist affiliations or relatives? Now we know that he had. Did his sponsors know that when they made application, or exactly how much of him did they know? I do not want to press these particular cases of Fuchs or Ponte-corvo too closely; I am using them as illustrations. In the case of Fuchs, I think there was clearly recommendation without knowing a sufficient amount of the man's background. Exactly the same considerations apply in the case of Ponte-corvo. Again he was a refugee, and again he was probably a refugee not be-because he was a Jew but because he had affiliations and relatives in the Communist Party, which is the only other really good reason for his flight. Were these things known? If not, was it clearly stated that the sponsors did not know very much of his foreign background, or knew only so much and no more? I urge your Lord-ships, in view of the intensely dangerous character of the times in which we live, to insist that provisions like that should in future be seriously considered, and that space should be given for an exact definition and not an approximate one of the knowledge of the applicant.

Sixthly, I think it is abundantly clear that our screening does not work satisfactorily in all cases. That brings me back to speak very briefly of something which I have said to your Lordships be-fore now—that is, that our Security Ser-vices are, in my judgment, under-staffed and underpaid. I have said in this House before that they were the Cinderella of the Services; that I thought it would be a very serious thing if that were allowed to continue, and that I hoped improvement might be coming in the future. I hope that that is a matter which will also be taken into consideration. Here are these points—all entirely practical—which I submit to the Government. In past years I have put forward a number of propositions with the idea of strengthening the home front. I have not met with any success. I hope that this occasion will be an exception and that what I have said to-day will be taken into favourable consideration. Your Lordships may be inclined to think that it is a minor matter. It is not. It is a test case; a small-scale one, but a test case none the less, because provisions for the protection of the home front here are defective, and this would be one means of safeguard for the future. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That more stringent and effective precautions should govern the bestowal of British nationality upon alien applicants.—(Lord Vansittart).

3.26 p.m.


My. Lords, as one who has often found him-self in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, I am glad indeed to have this opportunity of publicly supporting him this afternoon. My intervention will be but brief, for I pro-pose with your Lordships' permission to address myself to one point solely, and that is the question of the publication in the Press of the names of the sponsors. I think I was the first person to raise this matter in your Lordships' House as a supplementary question to one which was asked by my noble friend Lord Broughshane last March. In that case the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack gave a negative answer, but he was good enough to write me personally giving more fully his considered reasons for the rejection. That was an act of courtesy which I appreciated, and in reply to a supplementary question was something which I did not feel entitled to expect.

I think there will be few of your Lordships who will venture to dissent from the general proposition that to be a British subject is a great privilege. It is something which should not be lightly granted to an alien. The Roman, when he said, "Civis Romanus sum," was not making a vain boast or an idle statement; he was declaring a fact which gave him status even in the eyes of barbarians. So any alien fortunate enough to become a British subject secures some-thing which gives him particular benefits and which bestows great privileges on those entitled to enjoy it. At the same time, it offers great opportunity for doing evil. I should have thought that there never was a time in our history with—as I am afraid I see it— the future of the whole of our civilisation trembling in the balance, when we should have been more ready to adopt the most stringent precautions to see that no undesirables should be admitted as British subjects. That is not to say that we should keep aliens from our shores. But there is all the difference in the world between admitting aliens and accepting them as British subjects.

One may wonder why it should be in such cases that the Government resist the suggestion which I have made. As I understand the reasons given in your Lordships' House by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Wool-sack, and those given in another place, they amount to two things: first, that His Majesty's Government attach little or no importance to the names of the spon-sors—the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will correct me if he disagrees—and, second, that it would no. be right that those who have acted in good faith at the lime should afterwards be pilloried in the Press. I have never suggested that His Majesty's Government do attach undue weight to the names of the sponsors, but that they attach some weight to them is plain. There is no statutory requirement in this regard. One is not bound by Statute to have sponsors, but the fact that the Government insist upon there being sponsors surely implies, ipso facto, that they attach some weight to their support.

And if weight is to be attached to their support, surely it is but reasonable that at a time such as this we should put the sponsors on their guard: and what could put them more fully on their guard than being apprised of the fact that along with the publication of the applicant's name their names would appear jointly with it in the Press? If any noble Lord doubts that that would put them on their guard, I would give an example given to me by a friend who had experience. He was asked to sponsor the naturalisation of a Roumanian. Noble Lords will realise that pressure of business, the filling up of many forms, the persuasive influence exerted by other friends, the easy argument that X, Y and Z had signed and and they are good people, make it hard for someone to refuse to sign as a sponsor. My friend did so sign and he was very sorry afterwards that he did. He admitted that he might have hesitated and given it more thought if he knew his name would appear in The Times. I see little difference in principle in regard to the request I am making whether it is on an important matter or something which is small. It is an extension of the same principle. I think that those who support a proposition which touches our public life should not be afraid publicly to an- nounce their support, any more than they are afraid to do so when they support something which touches their own personal life.

I give the illustration of a man who proposes or seconds a new member of a club. He has his name put up on the notice board, whether he likes it or not, and accepts that this should be so. Nor can any man who acts in good faith when larger interests are at stake, or when matters of public interest are affected, possibly resent having his name published in the Press. We should not forget that close on 6,000 aliens have already been naturalised this year. Are we sure that no Fuchs or Pontecorvos have slipped through the meshes of the net? Let us not forget that these gentlemen can change their names. Sometimes they prefer the exalted and ancient titles to be found even in your Lordships' House. Mr. Fuchs, for example, could if be wished simply become Mr. Fox. If he speaks English well, anyone would suppose that Mr. Fox was British by birth and not British by naturalisation. This is a most unsatisfactory situation unless very strict precautions are taken.

It has been suggested that the publication of the names of sponsors would result in the sponsors being pilloried in the Press. The Press, rightly in my view, has made a demand that these names should be published. I cannot see why that implies that the sponsors will be pilloried. I can see nothing of the kind. Far from it meaning their being pilloried in the Press thereafter for what they have done, it is a demand that they should be put on their guard about what they do at the time. I feel most sincerely that no man should sponsor an alien for naturalisation unless he feels that we are going to get a valuable citizen and that the State will be the gainer thereby. If he feels that, how can he possibly resent the publication of his name? I appeal to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Wool-sack. I may be wrong, but I can see no good reason for rejecting the suggestion that I make, and many good reasons for accepting it. I believe it is a simple, sound and sensible proposition and one which it is very much in the interests of the Government to adopt. I strongly urge the noble and learned Viscount to accept it.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I regret to say that I feel a current of xenophobia underlying the speeches to which we have just listened, although the actual proposals which the noble Lords have made have not been very drastic in character. Nevertheless, there was, particularly per-haps underlying the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, a distinct feeling that these people—and he spoke with a note of contempt in his voice— should not be admitted into the citizen-ship of our country.


I never said anything of the kind.


The noble Vis-count seemed to be suggesting that there should be some way of marking them, in the way the Jews in Nazi Germany were marked with the Star of David to show other citizens that they were Jews.


I cannot go on interrupting the noble Lord, but what he says bears no relation to what I have said. Every noble Lord present knows it.


My Lords, if it comes to a question of interrupting, if the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, is accusing me of xenophobia, I shall resent it exceedingly. I challenge him to show where my speech savoured of xenophobia in the smallest possible degree. The noble Lord should not make charges of that kind in this House when he is un-able to substantiate them.


I feel a current of xenophobia underlying the speeches of the noble Lords. I said I feel that, and I do not withdraw it. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, pointed out that a Fuchs would change his name to Fox and there was no way by which his fellow citizens could know he had had the horrible name of Fuchs. The method adopted by the Nazis in Germany was to mark the Jews with the Star of David, so that their fellow citizens would know they were, in fact, Jews. That was properly condemned throughout the length and breadth of this country.

If one could measure the greatness of the achievements of a nation by the yard-stick of its willingness to welcome strangers within its shores, I think we should find that the one was directly in proportion to the other. The noble Viscount has referred to Rome. He could not have given a better example of how the greatness of one of the greatest States that ever existed in the world was built up on this very policy of welcoming to Rome people from all the then known world. It appears that Rome began as a small State which welcomed runaway slaves. But whether that is true or not, historic Rome adopted one of the most liberal policies towards foreigners that any country has ever had. The strength and greatness of Rome in-creased as it received as its citizens men from all the Mediterranean countries. The noble Viscount quoted "Civis Romanus sum." That could be said at one and the same time by Paul of Tarsus, who came from Cilicia, on the one side of the ancient world, and by Seneca, from Cordoba in Spain, on the other. Both these men lived in Rome at the same epoch. Throughout the history of Rome that was typical of the attitude towards people born outside Rome.

Our country has gloried in exactly the same sort of attitude towards strangers. It has been one of the great factors of British history that we have welcomed strangers within our gates, whether they came here because they were men of vitality, industry and business ability, who came to make their fortunes in a country where there were no restrictions, or whether they came to avoid persecution.

Indeed, I believe that is the case of the ancestor of the noble Lord who proposed this Motion. I took the trouble to look up what was said in Burke's Peerage about him. The noble Lord is descended from one Peter Van Sittart, who came here about 1670 as a merchant adventurer. I am sorry that one whose ancestor came here and was welcomed, and who built up a distinguished house in this country, should be proposing this Motion this afternoon. Let me tell him that so far as I know my ancestors came to this country in 449—




That is to say, I am completely English on both sides. But there are noble Lords whose ancestry in these islands goes back much further than that. The point I am making is that, both in this House and in this country, we have welcomed these people; and it has paid us hands down to do so, whether they came here merely because this was a country in which a great commercial or industrial career could be built up, or whether they came because they were refugees from persecution, religious or political, in other parts of the world. This country was one of the first countries in Europe to relax the persecution of the Jews. The Jews came to this country, and largely as a result of their financial ability London became the financial capital of the world. This country was one of the first to relax the disabilities on its Jewish citizens, and as a result not the least of the great men who have been Prime Ministers of this country was a Jew. It has paid us hands down in the past to adopt this liberal policy towards the strangers who came within our gates. If there is any other country in the world which has been more liberal than we have in that respect, it is the United States of America. Until the other day, when in a fit of hysteria they "clamped down," the United States had an astonishingly liberal policy towards strangers going in there, and as a result they have built themselves up to be one of the most powerful, the richest and ablest countries the world has seen.

There has been, perhaps, in this country over the last years a certain backsliding in this record of hospitality towards the stranger. It has not gone very far, but if this sort of Motion is canvassed it may go further. In the years immediately before the last war there was a distinct tightening up in respect of admitting strangers. That, I believe, was due not in any sense to a feeling of hostility towards strangers as such but rather because of the difficult employment situation in this country. I feel that it was due to that, and not to any sort of xenophobia. But it seems to me, as I have already said, that there is behind this Motion a certain feeling of that kind. The noble Lord, in particular, has referred to cases of a mere handful of people who have abused this priceless privilege of having British nationality conferred upon them—because I yield to nobody in regarding it as a priceless privilege. But one has to weigh against those few the hundreds of thousands of foreigners who have come here, who have received British nationality, and have conferred inestim- able benefits—no doubt receiving benefits themselves at the same time—upon the country of their adoption. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount who is to reply to this discussion will be able to tell us (no doubt he has the official figures) how many revocation cases there have been. In really bad cases the Home Secretary can revoke the certificate of naturalisation, and over the last few years there have been notices in the papers about such revocations taking place. I should like to know, out of all the hundreds of thousands of foreigners who have been naturalised in this country over the last fifty or 100 years, how many cases of revocation there have been. I believe that would be the acid test against which this condemnation of the naturalised foreigner could be judged.

The main proposals of the noble Lord who introduced the Motion seem to boil down to two. The first, to which I have no objection whatever, is that the sponsors' names should be advertised. The other is that in the noble Lord's view, the screening by the security services is altogether ineffective.


I must correct the noble Lord once more. I did not say, "altogether ineffective"; I said, "occasionally ineffective." There is a great deal of difference. The noble Lord really must not go on distorting what I have said.


I should like to know what the noble Lord proposes. The screening arrangements are the same for all these cases. I had the honour of working for some time in the naturalisation office of the Homo Office during the war, and the screening arrangements are exactly the same for all these different people. The noble Lord has referred to the case of Fuchs. Unless the screening arrangements are to be made more elaborate than those for people who are employed on the atomic energy pile at Harwell how are we possibly to catch out a man like Fuchs. Fuchs was a man who worked there in very close touch with colleagues, both on the laboratory bench and in the social life of the place, and all of them have said that over all those years they had not the remotest idea that he was leading this double life. It is obviously impossible to put these tens of thousands of people who apply for naturalisation over the years through a security screening of such a kind as that. It would not be possible to afford the money, the personnel or the time to carry it through. Moreover, it would not be worth doing, because a skilful person like Fuchs would evade it every time. Surely, it is necessary to concentrate the screening upon the particular employment. There is no need to put a person who is to be employed in an ordinary commercial office, or on some comparatively minor work of that kind, through a screening of the kind which is essential when a man is to be employed on the atomic pile at Harwell, or on some similar security work.

Nor should the innuendo that it is only aliens who have been naturalised who behave in this way be allowed to go through without challenge. The most dangerous of the Communists in our midst at present are people who were born to the privilege of British citizenship, and not people on whom it has been conferred by certificate of naturalisation. One could refer to a man like Dr. Nunn May, a British-born citizen who behaved in exactly the same way as Fuchs. I feel that this is the sort of Motion which attempts to drive the thin end of the wedge into what is one of the most price-less traditions of this country—namely, the great traditional liberal policy to-wards the stranger who is within our gates. I therefore hope that the Lord Chancellor will not accept the Motion.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords. I had not the slightest intention of taking part in this debate—indeed, I had to go out, and so have not heard the whole of it. But I feel that I should wish to say that I rather regret the tone of indignation and reproach which seems to have crept into the discussion, to judge from the speech of the noble Lord opposite. Surely this is a matter which can be discussed without finding any innuendos or under-hand insinuations, once it is realised that the question is whether or not the present arrangements are adequate to protect us from a danger. If the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, had said that in his view any alien ought to be allowed to become a British subject as soon as he applied to do so, then I could understand it. But, of course, he does not hold that view at all. He recognises, as we all do, that not only is this a privilege but that it is a privilege which should be granted only when it is in the public interest to grant it.

I should be the very first to agree that, historically, this country has gained enormously from the admission of people of foreign origin, and it has done so through the ages—Spitalfields weavers and every kind of person coming in. But that, after all, is not the question which is being raised. The question which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, raised was: Are the existing arrangements adequate to protect us, or are they, on the contrary, not adequate, with the result that people become British subjects who would have their naturalisation applications refused if the arrangements were better? I hope that I may be forgiven for saying that it does not seem to me that the question requires very great heat or indignation. It is largely a question of fact. I have twice been Home Secretary, and it is his Department which has to concern itself with the naturalisation of aliens. I think I know a good deal about the working of that Department, and before the last war they took special care to secure that very great precautions were taken in reference to people who in a very short time might find their sympathies drawn to the country of their origin, rather than to the country which they had adopted. If you naturalise a German or Italian on the eve of war, the result is that by making him a British subject you no longer have the right to exclude him from the country, and only in very exceptional circumstances have you the right to restrain him in any way at all. Obviously, the matter is one of anxiety and good sense. I am all for subscribing to Lord Chorley's doctrine that, on the whole, we have gained enormously by our generous attitude to the whole matter.

I have had the privilege of listening to a great many speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart. I have sometimes thought that he spoke a little extremely, but I do not think I have ever heard a speech from him which was more moderate in tone and more reasonable in substance. There-fore, I would venture to suggest that we might await the answer of the Lord Chancellor with general good temper, and not in the attitude that we are all violently quarrelling with one another. What particularly impressed me was that the speech of my noble friend Lord Buckmaster consisted entirely of the point that he thought it would be better it the sponsors of the applicant had their names published. That was the sole argument he used, and it was accepted by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as a reasonable one. I do not know whether or not the Lord Chancellor will agree, but it does seem rather difficult to quarrel with the one and only point my noble friend made which is the only point with which Lord Chorley agrees.


The point upon which I was challenging the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, was his suggestion that Mr. Fuchs should not be allowed to take the name of Fox—that he should be branded with the alien stigma.


I never suggested anything of the kind.


My Lords, to show that I am myself not in the least disposed to be partisan about it, I will make one observation which is well within my own experience as Minister of the Home Office. It is undoubtedly an important principle, which we have tried to maintain in this country, that once an individual has become naturalised he is a British subject for all purposes, whether it is for the public service or whether it is for any other purpose. Once he is naturalised he is a British subject. It was not always so. There was a time in our history, as your Lordships know well, and as the Lord Chancellor knows very well, when offices of State could not be held by people in this country unless they were not only British subjects but British subjects who had the quality of being born British subjects. That was because of the danger people felt of being overrun by Dutch-men or Hanoverians, or whomsoever you please. It is an important principle that once you have made a man a British subject he should be accepted on a level with every pure-born British subject, with the same right of voting and the same right to serve the State. I regard that as a very important principle, but whether it does not rather support the view that we ought to be particularly careful in these cases is another matter. I do not say more, for I was not in the least prepared to speak. I hope that I may be excused for saying that I do not think the question which has been raised is one upon which it is necessary for us to get at cross-purposes, to find all sorts of miserable innuendos in what is said. I did not find it so; nor, I think, did other noble Lords here.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords. I am sure that as a result of our discussion a good time has been had by all concerned. When I hear noble Lords arguing with each other as to the date of their lineage, whether or not it is the sixteenth or fourth century, I am reminded of what Sydney Smith used to say about his own ancestry. He said that his grand-father disappeared about the time of the Assizes and he thought it wiser to make no further inquiries. Of course, I agree, and I am sure we all agree. that on the whole we have gained enormously through the ages from the fact that foreigners have come to our shores as welcome guests and have become citizens of this country. Equally, I think we should all agree that if we are going to have a system of naturalisation, we must make inquiries to see whether those foreigners who are here are fit and suitable persons to be naturalised. There must be a system of screening. As I understand the object of this debate, it is to see whether or not the existing system is or is not defective. If it is defective, by all means let us improve it, and that is what I am going to talk about now.

Quite frankly, I always feel that any system of screening we may adopt will probably not be proof against letting the real "crooks" through. I remember going to a town and wanting to get some cartridges for a little 22rabbit rifle. I was not registered at the shop, and I went and asked for some of these cartridges. The man looked very surprised at my request and said: "Do you not know that this is illegal, and are you not aware that you introduced a law to that effect?" Apparently when I was Attorney-General I had done so. It was done, I suppose, to prevent evilly disposed people getting ammunition for firearms. I very much doubt whether it would prevent any evilly disposed person getting the necessary ammunition, but what it did do was to prevent my getting ammunition with which I was going to shoot rabbits. I feel that there is always that danger in all the precautions we take; but by all means let us make the thing as watertight as we can. On the other hand let us not think that our system has broken down merely because one or two people who prove to be quite unworthy have got through. That is all I say upon that point.

The first question is about the publication of the names of the sponsors. I have no very strong views about this matter, but I think it would be unfair if I were to announce, for instance, the names of the people who sponsored Fuchs, because they did so in perfect good faith and, indeed, their names are very distinguished names. If I were to announce them now I should hold them up to public hatred, ridicule and contempt—to use the old phrase—when they were perfectly good, God-fearing, honest citizens who simply told the Home Secretary what they believed to be the facts. I will certainly put it to the Home Secretary, but I am inclined to think that there would be disadvantages in publishing names in the paper. I confess frankly that I have sponsored these people not infrequently and that I should not have the smallest objection to my name being published in the paper. But I think you have to look at the matter like this: What are the sponsors doing? They are really witnesses, simply telling the Home Secretary, who is the officer who decides the matter, what they know. So long as they tell him in perfect good faith what they know and what they do not know, I think it is hard, if anything turns out to be wrong, that there should be a means of attaching some stigma to them.

This sponsorship, which is a duty not lightly undertaken, is not merely signing a piece of paper. When you have done that, depending in what part of the country you are, you are followed up by the local police force, who have specially trained officers who go round to the various sponsors, find out exactly what they know and what they do not know and whether there are gaps which they cannot cover, and then submit the result of their inquiries to the Home Office. Thus all you can expect the sponsors to do is faithfully and honestly to give the extent of their knowledge, and, having done that, they have performed a useful service. They then leave that information for the Home Secretary or the Home Office to decide what to do. They are not in the position of judges deciding the matter; they are in the position rather of witnesses. If things go wrong in any way, it is hard that the burden should fall on the sponsors, always providing they have frankly told the extent of their in-formation. I will certainly consider the noble Lord's suggestion, because I agree with him that it is one thing if I were now to reveal the names of those who sponsored Fuchs but a different thing to publish in the advertisement in the paper who the sponsors are.


I, too, have sponsored some applicants, and, speaking purely from recollection, my impression is that when you signed the application you signed, amongst other things, a statement that from your knowledge of the applicant you considered that he would be a satisfactory British subject. I may be wrong. There is some phrase of that sort.


I think that is so, and I have all the forms here. In practice, in London it is followed by a letter asking you for what we lawyers should call further and better particulars, saying exactly what you know of this man and on what grounds you are basing your conclusion.


I can remember it very well, because when I was young and at the Bar I was one of the sponsors for Mr. Hilaire Belloc, whom I had known very well at Oxford. I remember being very much concerned because an inspector of police called at the chambers and the clerk was a little suspicious about what was going to happen. The first thing the inspector asked me was: "Do you know 'Block'? "I said, No, I did not, and he then exhibited my form to me.


Let this be understood: that there are four sponsors and, either by correspondence or by a visit of officers, they are interrogated and asked to explain with precision on what facts they are basing their conclusions. So long as they are perfectly honest and straightforward and do not attempt to pretend that they know more than do know, there is no reason why they should in any case be held responsible. I will consult the Home Secretary about that matter.

The second point which the noble Lord aired—he put it as the first point—was that it was not enough to leave it to the Home Office but there ought to be a committee of various officers to examine cases. What happens is this: if there is any doubt at all in the mind of anybody, the Security Service are consulted, and the Security Service are in a position to consult any Government Department which might be able to give any know-ledge upon the matter. That seems to me to be a not unsatisfactory arrangement. The noble Lord suggested that the penalty of three months' imprisonment for making a false statement was insufficient. I am doubtful about that. I should have thought it was sufficient. I have no evidence whatever that people are less restrained by the thought that they can get only three months. I think three months is probably just as effective as six months or a longer period of time for this purpose.

I am afraid I have not the figures for which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, asked as to the number of revocations, but I am certain that it will be found to be very few indeed. It might almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. It would be very few indeed. In the vast majority of cases it is absolutely satisfactory. But there are a few of the other kind who get through. Whatever system we adopt, probably a few will always get through, but that is no reason for not making the system as effective as we can. I agree with that. Let us make it as effective as we can. I shall convey to the Home Secretary what the noble Lords, Lord Vansittart and Lord Buckmaster, have said, and see whether he thinks those ideas are practicable to make the system as effective as we can. I do not think that we can do much more than this: get the four sponsors, treat them as the witnesses in the case, as it were, let them particularise exactly what they know of the candidate and what they do not know and what gaps there are in their knowledge; and then leave it to the officers to decide on that evidence what they ought to do, bearing in mind that if they are in any doubt at all they will go to the Security Service and the Security Service will then contact any other Government Department (the Foreign Office is obviously one) to see whether they can get any further light thrown on the position. I am not sure that there are any exceptions to the requirement of four sponsors, except with regard to those who have been in Government service overseas. They are in a slightly different category so long as they have served the requisite time. They obtain a report directly from their superior officer, and in a sense he ought to be in a better position to say than the four sponsors because obviously he sees more of the candidates; he does not see them only for a short period of time.

I have not the smallest complaint with the noble Lord for raising this question; we all want the same thing. There must be a screening system and we should all desire to make our screening system as effective as we can. I will convey to the Home Secretary the suggestions which the noble Lord has made, and if he thinks that by adopting those suggestions he can make the system more effective without bringing odium upon people who are merely doing the best they can, then I see no reason to suppose that he will not adopt them.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, to begin by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for the support he has given me on this matter. I thought he made a valuable point when he differentiated between admission to this country—which we should all be the last to wish to deny to anybody—and the actual process of naturalisation, which has a certain element of inequity that might, in certain circumstances, be dangerous. I thought that it was an extremely good point. I also welcome very much his support of my proposal that those who sponsor aliens should be prepared to have their names published.

I should have wished to conclude this debate on a note of good humour, but the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has made that impossible. He referred to the Star of David. I think that that is the most groundless and offensive suggestion that I have ever heard in this House, certainly so far as I am concerned. The noble Lord charges me with xenophobia, but he is not going to get away with it. I am going to ask him which of my suggestions savoured of xenophobia. I pro-posed a number of security measures which might strengthen our security ser-vices, and then the noble Lord accused me of xenophobia. There are a great many aliens in this country. Is that xenophobia? I suggested that our security might be strengthened, if not in every case at least in exceptional cases or border-line cases, by a departmental committee, where knowledge may be pooled. Is that xenophobia?


My Lords, I think I will withdraw what I said. At the time I had a certain feeling about his remarks. I am prepared to accept the noble Lord's statement that there was no such thing in his mind. I withdraw the suggestion.


I thank the noble Lord most warmly for that, because I should have been sorry had there been any acute difference between us to-day; but the reference to Nazis and the Star of David got me "on the raw." I accept the noble Lord's withdrawal with thanks. I think it is very handsome of him and does him great credit.

With regard to what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said— I think the point has been made by other speakers too—I quite agree that one can-not be sure of catching the real "bad'un" every time, but I thought that our chances might be improved if those sponsoring the applications would say just how much they knew, and if space were provided for that on the actual form; in other words, they may be able to say, "We know the record inside and out. It is very good and we have no objection at all. As regards our knowledge of the foreign background, of that we know either nothing" (in some cases) "or only a limited amount" (in other cases). "That is the extent of our know-ledge which we put at the disposal of our authorities." I thought that was a fairly reasonable suggestion. I do not wish to prolong this debate. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has kindly said that he will convey my suggestions to the appropriate authorities. On that, I am very glad to withdraw my Motion, and also take great pleasure in withdrawing any sharp observations that I may have made in regard to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. So far as I am concerned, there is no ill-blood at all.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.