When the House was summoned to another place I was remarking that it had been the tradition of this island for many centuries to give a welcome and asylum to all those who were persecuted in other lands, and that I did not believe that we had ever suffered from this policy. In the last few years we have been, certainly, true to this tradition. For the last six years, at any rate, a very large number of refugees from Europe have found both homes and a welcome in this country and I think it is one of the brightest pages in our history that in the hour of their need, sorrow and persecution we should have fulfilled an elementary Christian duty in offering them a home and a measure of happiness in this island. Through all these difficult years the Home Office, in my experience, has been, invariably, more than considerate to those who have advocated the claims of refugees. It is true that the Department have not granted all our desires and wishes but, invariably, the overworked and hard-tried officials at the Home Office have been only too willing to discuss any individual case on its merits.
I know to-day that there is no one more anxious to do justice to these unfortunate people than the Home Secretary or, indeed, the Under-Secretary himself who has been always most sympathetic and generous whenever I have put before him a problem regarding refugees. During the last few months, of course, there has been a tremendous influx of refugees from various countries and that influx has been accompanied by, and coupled with, fears of invasion and Fifth Column activities, with the result that there has been a tremendous public demand for the internment of practically every one whose family has not lived here for 100 years, in complete disregard of the individual merits of the cases concerned—a totally un-English attitude to adopt towards a problem of this kind. I fear that the authorities in this matter have been somewhat stampeded, even against their own better judgment. Alas, all unwittingly, they have given some material to the German broadcasters as regards conditions in this country and the fact that we are now starting to pursue the Nazi policy of interning every Jew in the country. I think it is understandable, and up to a point excusable, but what is not excusable is delay in sorting the cases and in keeping large numbers of people for a long period in internment, when they ought to be released and when there can be no possible shadow of complaint against them.
Also, I think the conditions in certain internment camps are inexcusable. There have been tremendous hardships and grave injustices. Industries have been upset; purely British workers have been thrown out of jobs because vital keymen have been interned, and we have locked up engineers and scientists who were making a real contribution to winning the war; boys at school have been taken away, their education uncompleted, and, if it is true—I hope it may be contradicted—worst of all, in some cases we have actually mixed in the same camps, Nazis and Jews. There is an added complication. When a great many of these people have been interned they have come under the military machine. The War Office is not always as quick in getting a move on as we should like. When it is a combination of two Departments, the War Office and the Home Office, with which you have to deal, it is obvious that there are likely to be delays. I do not want to put it more severely than that. Of course, when it is a question of public security or national safety, there cannot be any doubt as to the right thing to do. No one speaking from the point of view which I am seaking from, would ask for the slightest alteration in any decision where there can be even a shadow of doubt as regards the safety of the country. Let us make our position perfectly plain on that. But we ask for review of the cases and the release of some of the individuals concerned. We ask for better conditions for them, and quicker decisions by the Departments concerned, and we believe that these benefits would be more quickly and more efficiently arrived at, if there could be one individual in complete charge with full authority over the question of refugees.
I make that appeal to the Government. I know it will not fall on deaf ears, whether it is addressed to the War Office or to the Home Office. On the other hand, I should like to make an appeal to the refugees themselves. I know it is difficult for them to realise the difficulties under which we are labouring. Let them remember that we have given them a very large measure of hospitality for many years. If it had not been for that hospitality, many of them might have perished in the countries from which they came. Again, it may very often be in the interests of the refugee himself that he should be interned at this minute. Finally, it will be by our victory alone, that we shall secure them that release from misery which is our common aim and object. War must bring many injustices. Do not let us therefore add unnecessarily to those injustices by mere administrative muddles and confusion. Let us not add to the sum total of misery through which the world is passing to-day. I believe that our treatment of the refugees throughout the ages, and particularly in the last few years, will be regarded in future as the brightest page in our history. Do not let us tarnish it to-day. I appeal both to the Home Office and to the War Office to maintain that tradition which we have always followed in regard to refugees.
Many of us have wanted for a long time to raise this question in debate, but we have been restrained by two considerations, first, our sense of the terrific pressure and strain on all Government Departments and reluctance to add to it, and, secondly, by a reluctance to give publicity to a matter which reflects unfavourably on our country's reputation for humanity, liberality and efficiency. We are compelled to do it now by the mass of evidence pouring in upon all of us of the widespread misery and fear suffered by refugees, many of them anxious to serve our country's cause, and also of the waste of labour and talent and the clogging of the machine, which arises from the present system. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken paid a tribute to my small efforts in this matter. He has efficiently served the cause himself for a long time. I agree with everything that he said about the liberal, humane, generous attitude of the Home Office, the Home Secretary himself, the Under-Secretaries and the principal permanent officials towards the refugee problem. I believe also that the military officers who are actually carrying out that part of the arrangements for refugees are, individually, not less humane and are carrying out a task which is deeply distasteful to them. Both Departments are doing it at the bidding of the military authorities, who, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman delicately hinted, may know a great deal about the needs of national security, but to whom one refugee is as good or as bad as another and who make no distinctions.
What are the results produced by carrying out this policy? Let us consider first the general policy, which apparently is that of the internment of all enemy aliens, with few exceptions, including those who have been pronounced by the tribunals to be victims of Nazi oppression. The theory seems to be that, if you throw your net round all the fish and draw them in, though only a very small minority of the fish are dangerous and suspicious people, you will at any rate get hold of those you want. But you do not get hold of all the dangerous people. Very many escape, some because they are not, admittedly, of enemy origin—the Quislings, those of Nazi and Fascist sympathies who are natives of countries with which we are nominally at peace and who, willingly or unwillingly, are really obeying the bidding of the Nazis. Secondly, we draw into the net not merely thousands who are reliable, but hundreds who are far more than reliable, who have undergone tests in their devotion to the cause of freedom and humanity for which we are fighting, such as not one of us has had to bear. In the struggle that they have made in their own countries against Nazi tyranny in Germany or Fascist tyranny in Italy, hundreds of those men and women have looked death in the face and have not been afraid. That is a small thing. There are thousands of men, God knows, doing that to-day in this country. But they have looked death by torture in the face, and endured torture, and have not been afraid. Hardest of all, they have deliberately risked bringing upon their husbands or wives, sons and daughters, the bestialities of Nazi cruelty. Then, at long last, somehow or other, many of them have escaped to this land, believing that they were coming to a land of freedom. They found that land of freedom plunged into a struggle which they recognised at once as their struggle and they longed to take part in it as members of the armed forces or to operate services for which their trained brains or skilled hands suited them.
They believed, too, that just because they knew their own countrymen and had watched the growth of Nazi and Fascist tyranny, they perhaps had something that they could teach us about how to master those evils, and how to keep up the morale of our own countrymen. Instead of that, not merely are their services rejected, but they find themselves treated as dangerous people and interned, under present conditions, along with their lifelong enemies—Jews and political refugees with Nazis—and treated as so dangerous that they may not even receive newspapers or listen to the wireless and they live in conditions very similar to those of a convict prison. Is all that really necessary? Is there no better way? I acknowledge that at this stage of the war and at this tremendous period of emergency it is probably too late to ask the Government to change its whole system and to reverse the engine. We shall be told that national security must come first. Of course it must, but the question we ask the Government to consider seriously is: Cannot the method and machinery be improved, not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself?
Let us consider the main problem. First of all, how far is the policy of general internment going? Is it to be extended to all women of enemy alien countries? At present it is mainly extended to men, whether they are the victims of Nazi oppression or whatever they are. Is it to be extended to those of other than enemy nationalities—Poles, Rumanians and natives of Scandinavian countries? There may be dangerous people among those. There were dangerous Belgians, Dutch and Norwegians. Is the principle of internment to be extended to all those? It is amusing to know that all men are regarded as dangerous and all women are regarded, presumably, as too stupid to be dangerous. At any rate, it would be merciful to let the classes of refugees and aliens who have not yet been interned, the women and the people of other nationalities, know where the sword of Damocles is about to fall. No one can suppose that there are advantages in keeping these people "in the dark" until the last moment in order that the dangerous ones among them shall not escape, because all of them are expecting internment from day to day and from hour to hour.
The result is that it is becoming more and more impossible for any alien, and certainly for any woman of German nationality, to get any employment. To give an example, between boo and 700 nurses were turned out of hospitals all over England because they were of enemy alien nationality; British nurses were brought in; and when later the decision was reversed, the matrons and those responsible for the nurses did not dare to take them back, because it was expected that these women were going to be seized and interned any day. Cannot we be told what the policy of internment is to be? Could it not be limited in such a way as to exclude those against whom there is no shadow of suspicion that they are dangerous people? Very large numbers of them have gone through the tribunals already, and if the tribunals have pronounced them to be safe and the police know nothing against them, why intern them?
I should like now to deal with the conditions of exemption. Certain conditions have been laid down, and I believe it is the intention of the Home Office somewhat to extend those conditions. I want to know who are to be exempted. Is it to be only the very young, the very old, the very sick, students and boys and girls at school, and those engaged in work of national importance? Those are the principal categories that are supposed to be exempted at present. Let me take the most important of those categories—the people engaged in work of national importance. I ask that particular attention should be given to this issue, because I believe that it is one of the most important issues. If these men and women are engaged, as thousands of them are, not in work pronounced by the War Office or the Ministry of Supply to be national work in the sense of being directly for the war, but in useful work, in science and learning, in production for export or in agriculture, will they be considered as being engaged in work of national importance? If men or women are unreliable, they are more likely to be dangerous persons if they are set free to work in munitions factories and other war factories than if they are working in an ordinary factory or in an agricultural colony, producing food or other articles not directly used as part of the war machine. Why not exempt all those against whom there is no shadow of suspicion—make the test as strict as you like—and who are engaged in some form of useful work?
Having settled the categories, there then arises the very important point, of who is to be responsible for interpreting the categories. At present, as far as I can make out, it is the ordinary policeman or his immediate superior, and it is quite amazing what results this leads to. For example, with regard to work of national importance, I handed to the Under-Secretary of State yesterday a batch of cases which included a man who is managing director of a company which at this very moment is carrying out contracts for four different Ministries of a total value of nearly £500,000. That man has been interned. There have been handed to the Under-Secretary particulars of several scores of factories, workshops, and agricultural settlements which have been stripped of their directors or key workers, because these people have been interned or driven out of particular areas. That is not intended, of course, but results largely from the way in which individual policemen or their superiors interpret what is meant by work of national importance.
Again, take the question of sick people, who are supposed to be released. I handed to the Under-Secretary yesterday a batch of cases of men who are suffering in the advanced stages of heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma; and one case of a man who was due to have an operation for a cataract that very day, who told that to the policeman, but was not allowed to have his internment put off for one day so that he might have the operation, although the doctor had said that it was essential that it should take place quickly. I should like to quote one case where the exercise by the police of their responsibility led to a particularly tragic result. It is the case of a man who was a professor of chemistry for 23 years at a German university. He is 62 years old. He is an international authority on dyestuffs, and at this very moment his book on that subject is being translated by Harvard University. He was kept in Germany so that other countries could not profit by his knowledge; he was thrown into the most brutal concentration camp, suffered tortures for 17 days, and finally, when he was released, came to this country. He was permitted to do research work with a research grant, and for the last year has been employed by a company where he has been developing a process for utilising, sisal waste particularly for use in submarines. Is that work of national importance?
His firm applied to the Home Office for an exemption. A week ago the police called at his flat, he showed them his application to the Home Office, he asked them to wait until that application had been investigated; they refused, and told him that they would come back shortly. He warned them that he could not endure another internment. They came back in two hours, but he had escaped from the stupidity and the malice of others—he had taken a quick poison. When the inquest was held, one of the two police officers asked the widow whether her husband was a Jew, and she said, "No, he was of Jewish origin, but baptised a Christian"; whereupon, the police officer turned to the other, and said, "What a pity. If we had only known before." The policeman thought that the man's Jewish origin was a reason for not exempting him from internment. I have not investigated that story, but it was told to me from what I believe to be a reliable source. I can hand all the particulars to the Under-Secretary. I believe that the police are not suitable people to administer and interpret these extremely complicated regulations. There should be more careful classification beforehand. I ask that use should be made of the numerous heads of the refugee organisations who have known these people for months or for years.
I want to ask what are the conditions of release from internment. At present it is about as easy to get a man out of an interment camp as it is to pull a camel through the eye of a needle. I want to know whether, if a man has been wrongly interned, either because the regulations were wrongly interpreted or because there were later modifications and changes, he ought not to be entitled to be disinterned. If there has been a mistake by the authorities, why should a man suffer for it? May we be told whether a man interned under conditions which do not apply is entitled to disinternment? May we also be told what is the machinery for getting a man out of an internment camp? Either there should be a new tribunal, or perhaps a group of civil servants who could decide quickly on these matters, without waiting for weeks and weeks because they have other work to do. Do not put the work on to the overburdened commandants.
There is, then, the question of the conditions in the camps. I do not want to say too much about this matter, because I know that what is unsatisfactory in the conditions in the camps—and there is much that is unsatisfactory—is not due to any intention of inhumanity, but to the fact that the commandants have been simply swamped by a continual and irregular flow of new internees, who have come on them like an avalanche before it was possible for them to dig out the victims of the previous avalanche. Is it right, for example, that at such a camp as the Huyton camp, which has been going for weeks, they should still be almost entirely devoid of chairs, tables and beds, so that elderly people have to sleep on the floor on mattresses, or, as I have been told, on heaps of straw? Is it impossible to get these simple and obvious articles of furniture without indenting for them from military supplies? Is nobody authorised to cut the red tape and drive to Liverpool, which is about four miles away, and order immediately a few things of that sort?
Is it necessary to deprive these internees of newspapers and wireless, to forbid them to take their own books and violins? I do not say this is true of all the internment camps, for the conditions vary, and in many camps the conditions regarding newspapers and wireless have been relaxed. That should be done in the case of all the camps. Could not trained workers, who know the languages of the internees, be appointed by the refugee organisations to work under the commandants, and to help them in their overwhelming task of controlling and sorting out the internees, arranging pastimes and recreation, and so on? With regard to the policy of deportation, how far is this policy to be carried? Is the Under-Secretary for War aware of the real panic that exists at present among internees and their families as to whether they are going to be whisked off overseas, without previous notice to their families? It has happened in a very large number of cases.
May I point out to the hon. Lady that the War Office have no responsibility for the internees put in the camps or taken out of them, or, when they are taken out, where they are sent. We merely manage the camps.
I want to ask why it is that we can never find out who is responsible. We cannot believe it is the mind and will of the Home Secretary. We know him too well. We cannot believe it is the mind and will of the Under-Secretary. We know him too well. We believe it is being done at the dictation of the military—
I think we ought to point out that we did not know which member of the Cabinet was responsible. I informed the Lord Privy Seal, and he is present, so I do not think we ought to blame other members of the Government. Of course, it must be remembered that this Debate may not end the question, and that we can raise it again on some other occasion.
I think I should point out to the House that I am in a position to give some information on this subject which will do something to allay the anxiety which hon. Members feel. When I come to reply, I will cover this question.
On the question of deportation, I wish to ask four questions. First, who is to be deported among these categories? Cannot we be allowed to know that those on whom no shadow of real suspicion rests will not be deported—those who have passed the tribunals? Secondly, we want to know, whoever is deported, whether a married man with young children will be allowed to take his wife and family with him? There have been painful cases, such as that of a man who was deported while his wife was in a sanatorium. She did not know that her husband had been taken away from her. There are widespread anxieties on this question. Thirdly, can we be assured that Nazis and Fascists shall not be allowed to mix with the victims of Nazi and Fascist oppression? There have been cases of ill-feeling between Italians and Germans. Ought they not to be separated and sent abroad in different vessels? Fourthly, what arrangements are being made for their reception in the Dominions or Colonies? We cannot wash our hands of responsibility by sending these people to Australia, Canada and New Zealand and leaving the Dominions to take care of them.
These people entrusted themselves to us and came here at our invitation. They are maintained at the expense of the Government or of the charitable public of this country, and, therefore, is it right that we should simply shift them overseas and not make sure that the conditions under which they will have to live are satisfactory? We would also ask that those people who are sent overseas should not, unless there is good reason, be interned. After all, the conditions in Canada and the other Dominions are not the same as conditions in this country. In a sense those countries are not in the war as we are, because they are not in immediate danger of invasion. Is it necessary, therefore, that people should be put into internment camps in Australia, Canada or New Zealand? Cannot they be allowed to go free and engage in productive labour, even if they have to remain under a supervised and restricted freedom?
All these questions are causing the most acute anxiety among internees and their families. "What we want is to serve the common cause," they say. "Your cause is our cause. Let us serve it in the fighting forces, in industry and in any occupation to which we belong. But, if we are suspect, if you have no use for us, do not send us abroad as prisoners, but find us room in some Colony or Dominion, or in the United States, and enable us to start a new life away from Europe and all its entanglements and oppression in an era of freedom again." I ask all representatives of the Government present, and through them the Members of the Cabinet, to deal with these matters, not as though they were petty matters of Departmental administration touching this Department or that Department, but as matters affecting the lives and happiness of thousands of people who entrusted themselves to us—people who thought they were coming to a land of freedom. This is a question which affects our prestige as a nation, and we do not want to let it go out that our land is a land of oppression and not a land of the free.
I did not intend to take part in this Debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why speak?"] Because I think it is time that someone, after the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), put the other side of the question. I have, at least, the right to put that other side. The hon. Lady has made a most eloquent appeal on behalf of the refugees, many of whom may have been interned, who wish, with all their hearts, to serve this country and to fight Nazi and Fascist tyranny. But have not some hon. Members very short memories? Have there not been so-called victims of Nazi and Fascist aggression, who have been useful tools in other countries? It is no use saying "No," because it was reported on many occasions, when the Nazis overran Holland, that men who had been in Holland for many years, and who were looked upon by the Dutch almost as being of themselves, had been working subterraneously for the Nazi cause. Does the hon. Member for one single moment deny that the Nazis purposely used as agents refugees, and so-called victims of Nazi aggression, whom they had sent into other countries to serve their cause?
While we sympathise with some of these people, our first consideration should be for our own people and the cause for which they are fighting. You have no right to risk, by one hour, the fight against the awful power which is enveloping the world. I believe that a true victim of Nazi aggression, or a true refugee, will put up with being interned unjustly and with a great deal of misunderstanding, perhaps with a joyful heart, if he feels that the real enemies of this country are being interned. In every case they should be interned. On many occasions Members have raised cases in this House, and have written letters to the Home Secretary and to the War Office, pointing out cases where in their opinion people should have been interned long ago. Some hon. Members say that the wrong people have been interned, but are we, with our very small knowledge, to be judges of that? I hold no brief for the tribunals, but it is a very difficult matter to prove who is and who is not a genuine refugee. I implore the Government to see that where there is any doubt, hard though it is upon the innocent, we should err on the side of interning the innocent, rather than allow the guilty to go free in our midst and run the risk which has led to the downfall of other countries.
I join with the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities in detesting and deploring some of the conditions in the camps. I think they are inexcusable. It should be possible to get across to the right people, the need for beds, chairs and tables. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) laughs, but does he consider that he is the only person in the country with a heart. I believe that if an appeal were made for beds a certain number would be forthcoming.
Perhaps the hon. Lady is not aware that these refugees have been supported largely by voluntary organisations who have now been brushed aside and are not consulted. Now she suggests that the simple bare necessities should be provided by appeals to the public.
It is no good being so scornful. We all know that many of our troops have not got essentials at this time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Whose fault is that?"] It is the fault of the whole nation which would not wake up to the peril which faced us. [Interruption.] I am not one of those who supported the late Government in a recent Vote, and therefore it is obvious where my sympathy lay in regard to that, but I am sorry that the consciences of hon. Members are so tough that they can forget so easily the votes they have given. I say there is no thinking man or woman in this country who does not bear a certain degree of guilt for the complacency into which we allowed ourselves to fall. I say it is perfectly futile to come to this House to-day and make a tremendous appeal for material to meet shortages. We know there is a shortage of beds and requisites, but I say: Let our own fighting men have first call, aid when their needs have been satisfied, then let us satisfy the needs of others.
In the case of certain Members in this House, one has only to say the word "Jew" and they lose all sense of reason. I sympathise with the Jews, but Germany has learned to make skilful use of them. There is a book called "Nemesis" by Douglas Reed. He pointed out, very clearly, in several books, what was going to happen, and the use made, in some instances, of Jews by the Nazis. It is no good saying that because a person is a refugee, because a man is a Jew and a victim of Nazi aggression, that he may not, nevertheless, be a potential danger to this country. I can only say that to my certain knowledge, there are people in my constituency about whom the police have had very grave reasons to be suspicious. They find it extraordinarily difficult to get these people interned. It may be that we make mistakes—I do not doubt it—but to come here and talk as if refugees were all being treated in the most brutal manner, and to say that everyone claiming to be a victim of Nazi aggression should immediately be freed—
In view of the fact that I seem to be the person who is being criticised, may I point out that both the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate and I were most careful to say that national security must come first, and we did not ask for the release from internment of one person on whom a shadow of real doubt or suspicion lies? Does the hon. Lady realise that if the net were drawn too wide, it is conceivable that you might have to intern the whole nation and that she and other Members of this House might even be charged with being Nazis in disguise?
I may be a Nazi agent in disguise, but, if so, I can only say it is curious that I am one of those on the Nazi black-list—and I am proud of the fact. I heard the hon. Lady say in her speech that if these people were engaged on work that was of value, such as agriculture, they should not be interned—
But in whose mind? You cannot, because a man or woman is engaged in agriculture, say, "That is not work which is suspicious; we must let them go free." You cannot take certain categories of work and say, "This work is quite harmless and because this man is engaged in it we will let him out of an internment camp." The hon. Lady's argument was really fantastic. I know that I am speaking against the sympathy of the majority of the House but I make no apologies for doing so. A deplorable picture was drawn by the hon. Lady of the sufferings of interned refugees, but an equally deplorable picture could easily be drawn of the sufferings of many of our own people who have had to leave homes in which they have lived all their lives. You can always get up and make a piteous and pathetic appeal, but do not let us be carried away by sentiment. We are in the midst of appalling danger. The Government have an extremely difficult task in having to sort out which refugees are desirable and which are undesirable. Everybody who has seen refugees arriving at our ports view with horror some of those who are taking shelter in this country to-day.
May I explain what I mean? The people who are being interned are people of German origin, and no people of German origin have been admitted since the war. The refugees arriving may be French or Dutch, but they are not people belonging to the country of those who are being interned.
I do not accept the hon. Lady's statement that no person of German origin has arrived in this country in recent months. She is very optimistic. The Government have an exceedingly difficult task, and, in my opinion, they have erred, if at all, on the side of leaving people at liberty. It is high time that that side of the picture was also drawn and not only the side which is largely based on some very hard cases and on sentiment.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) has spoken because she represents a view which is not uncommon in the country. The object of the House of Commons is that all views should be put forward and debated. I profoundly disagree with a great deal that she has said. That, fortunately, is seldom my lot, for I am usually happy to agree with her. The view on which the speech of my hon. Friend is based is what may be shortly called the "panic" view. Some people talk as if, because a large number of individuals have not been interned whom they think ought to be interned—and I also think there are people who have not been interned who might well be—that that is a reason why none of these people about whom we are talking should be released and why the conditions of their internment should not be mitigated. That is purely illogical and contrary to common sense.
I am sure the Government cannot go on as they are going at present. I do not want to suggest that it is their intention to do that because I recognise, and I think we all do, that the large internments which took place in the middle of May were the result of hurried decisions made in the face of a new danger which had appeared in Holland and Belgium, and that the Government felt at that time that they had, even at the admitted expense of much human suffering, to intern all male aliens in certain districts of the country. I do not wish to criticise that decision because we were then in a state of acute emergency. We were presented with a new fact, and I think that hurried action on the part of the Government was probably right. I agree with my hon. Friend that we ought not in any degree to risk the safety of the country. That action, however, took place six weeks ago, and I am glad that the House has taken this matter up, because I am sure that public opinion is being profoundly shocked by individual cases which have come to the attention of all of us. I know several cases in which I am perfectly certain that the men interned are innocent of any pro-Nazi feeling—as certain as I am about all the occupants of the Front Bench opposite or of this bench.
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that when we are in danger we must intern first and then make inquiries, rather than leave them all loose and make inquiries before we intern them.
If my hon. Friend will allow me to finish my speech, she will find that I will try to address myself to all obvious points. All of us have, within our personal knowledge, cases of people who can be proved, as far as anything is capable of proof, to be as anti-Nazi as any loyal subject of His Majesty the King. I want to ask that every one of these cases should be properly investigated and dealt with on their merits. I much regret that this matter is in the hands of the Home Office and the War Office, not because I have any lack of faith in either of these two great Departments, but because they are both Departments—particularly the War Office—which have as much to do as they can possibly do, without having this exceedingly complicated and quite new question thrust upon them. It is a thousand pities that the War Office have anything to do with it at all. The work the War Office has had to do during the last two months has been superhuman and it is a great misfortune to them and to everybody that they should have had this question thrust upon them. The Home Office are also grappling with a host of immensely important war problems. How can we expect Ministers and senior civil servants to have the time to give their attention to them?
I suggest to the Lord Privy Seal and the Government that this is an entirely new problem in our political experience and that there has never been anything exactly like it before. It is an intensely complicated problem and one that requires an enormous amount of investigation into individual cases. It is, too, a very important problem, because it is not merely a question of justice to individuals, but a question of the good name of Great Britain which is at stake. If we deal with this problem carelessly, as a matter which is not important and a matter which has to be shoved aside because there are other more important things for us to think about, we shall do harm to the good name of Great Britain, and Great Britain will be rightly held responsible by other countries for that attitude. Therefore, I plead with the Government to have a separate organisation to deal with this problem, with a separate Minister, if you like, and people in charge of it who have the time and the capacity to deal with the cases on their merits. I should have thought that that was not a difficult matter. If the Government made that decision, they would not have the slightest difficulty in getting a number of public men whom everybody in the country would trust, and who have the time and the authority to go into individual cases and deal with them expeditiously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Frome spoke as if it were impossible to come to a decision in the majority of these cases. I can assure her that that is not so. If you go to the Home Office and talk about any one of these cases you will find that there is a thick dossier about practically every refugee in the country—and rightly so. An enormous amount of information exists about every one of these cases. They ought to be separated into classes—those against whom there is no suspicion, and those about whom there is some suspicion. The latter class could be subdivided into the various degrees of suspicion that exists. I agree with the hon. Lady that those against whom any suspicion exists should be kept confined or sent abroad. Those who can prove that they are victims of Nazi oppression, that they fought against Nazism in Germany, or in Austria or in Czecho-Slovakia, that their relatives have been massacred or ill-treated, and who can give such proof as it is possible for any human being to give, that they are violent and vehement anti-Nazis and anti-German and that they are wholeheartedly with us, should be treated as friends, and not as enemies.
I support the statement of the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) that among those people there is a great fund of ability which is at the service of the country, which we can make use of and which to a large extent we have made use of. In the chemical industry, in the medical profession and in science generally there are refugees working to-day who have not been interned because their services are vital to this country; and there are others who have been interned, like those referred to by the hon. Lady, who, if not doing work that nobody else could do, were doing very important and very useful work until they were interned. When they have satisfied a reasonable man—a public figure, somebody of the status of a Minister of the Crown, who has had the time to go into their cases and is prepared to stand up in this House and say, "I am satisfied that So-and-so can be released "—those people should be released and should be enabled to earn their own livelihood and contribute towards the national effort.
In regard to others about whom there is some suspicion, the first thing I would plead with the Government is that as long as they are interned, they should be carefully divided into categories, so that those against whom there is less suspicion should not be shut up with violent Nazis. It is horrible that that should have occurred. I think that those against whom there is little suspicion might well be sent to the Dominions or the Colonies, preferably to some part of the Empire, where they could not possibly do any harm, and there be given liberty. In the case of those against whom there is a definite suspicion, it might be a very good plan to send them to the Dominions, and I understand that that has already been done and is being done; but I should not recommend that they should be released when they get to the Dominions.
Well, I imagine that in that case the Dominion Government would be furnished with all the evidence upon which to come to a decision, and if my hon. Friend is to reply I hope he will deal with that point. I have been privileged to interview the general officer in charge of this work at the War Office, and I should like to say that I do not think any more humane-minded or more sensible man could have been found for the task; but it is not a War Office job and the War Office has not had the time to make a proper job of it. As long as there are any internees in this country, I hope that whatever Government Department is responsible for them will see that they have plenty of food, which they have not always had in the past—again I recognise that things have had to be done in a hurry—and that they will be given work to do and not kept in enforced idleness. No greater torture can be given to a man accustomed to work than to keep him in idleness. I suggest that they should receive books. I understand that books may not be sent from home, but I see no reason why books should not be sent from a lending library or some other approved source. They should also be allowed to receive newspapers and given opportunities for recreation. Also, I do not think it is necessary that they should be kept behind a barbed-wire fence, with the public allowed to stare at them as though they were beasts at the Zoo.
These are just matters of common decency, and I am sure that none of my hon. Friends would dissent from any of the suggestions I have just made. I hope that those modifications will be made in the treatment of internees. If they are not, I am sure the Government will find public opinion rising against them in this matter. Above all, I plead for the creation of a new Department or a new organisation staffed by men of the proper calibre and standing, who can go into all these cases and separate the completely innocent from those against whom there is any suspicion. We should treat this matter in a common sense way and not in the spirit of panic.
This Debate began and I hope it will continue as a dispassionate inquiry into this very complex human problem with a view to finding out how speedily we can set up proper machinery for dealing with it. I had thought that I should have to make greater claims on the patience of the House than I normally allow myself to do, but the speeches already made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Major Cazalet) the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and by the noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) have covered the points which were uppermost in my mind as being of great importance. I should like to say at once that I agree entirely with everything which the noble Lord has said in particular the sentence in which he said the present state of things cannot continue for if it did then the good name of this country, which he was particularly jealous to guard, would be seriously jeopardised. Of that there is no question.
While the observations I shall make to the House will undoubtedly be critical, I should like to say that I do not wish to make any personal attack in any direction. I fully appreciate the difficulty of the task which the Home Office have been called upon to undertake. It has been one of growing difficulty for years past. When the wave of refugees from persecution first struck this country they were inadequately prepared to deal with it. The Home Office had the immense responsibility of supervising the admission of those unfortunate people, and was handicapped by a lack of trained staff, which did not exist in sufficient numbers to deal with the job. I hope and believe that the Home Office is now in a position to grapple with these difficulties, but I associate myself with what has been said by, I think, every speaker, that we must have a unified policy, because any other course must inevitably lead to the continuance of the intolerable things which have happened in the last few months.
We have learned to-day for the first time that there are some aspects of this question which are dealt with not by the Home Office and not by the War Office, but by a special Cabinet Committee. It may be that the course of this Debate will show that inquiries will have to be pursued which can only be answered by that authority, but the Financial Secretary to the War Office may perhaps give some information on points which I think ought to be settled at once. In the first place, the relatives of everybody who was on the "Arandora Star" ought to be informed immediately. In many cases there is great anxiety at the present time. I did not wish to mention any case in this House, because these cases are familiar to every Member, but the "Arandora Star" comes into the last letter which I received just before I came into the House to-day. A son writes of his father:
My mother and I are British born and my sentiments are all with this country. My father, an Italian, came to this country as a young man, and fought for the Allies in the last war, when he was badly wounded in the head. He was employed for some years in Folkestone and afterwards in London. He had no political ideas and he did not belong to any association. He lived for his work and home. My parents had never been apart a single day during the whole of their married life. On 11th June he was taken away to be interned. We did not trouble very much, as we were under the impression that the tribunal would simply consider special cases. We received three letters from him,
but in his last letter he said he had received no news from us. On hearing of the "Arandora Star" being torpedoed we were rather worried. We found that he was on the "Arandora Star" and posted as missing. Up to the present we have not had any news from the authorities at all. I am an only son and will soon be 20. I applied to join the L.D.V. but was turned down because my father was Italian. I managed to join the A.F.S. You can imagine the state of mind of my mother, who has long been in delicate health. There are 470 Italians missing. Quite a number must have been cruel victims, as in my father's case—
He goes on with a more personal note and says that he will be called up for Army service in a month or two, and asks whether his experience can help him to fight for this country. I would ask that all the facts concerning the "Arandora Star" should be cleared up without delay. There was a story in circulation that some of the undergraduates from Cambridge University were aboard that ship, and r should be glad to have a positive and public assurance that that was not the case. It was stated in the House yesterday by the Minister of Shipping that there were no German refugees on board the "Arandora Star," but I am assured by those who have been in contact with survivors from the "Arandora Star" that there were at least 200 German refugees on board. Those are points which in the public interest and anxiety should be settled at once.
There is an aspect of this matter which has not been stressed in this Debate, and that is that the division we have to make now in the case of the foreigners in our midst is not between one nationality and another nationality. We are now in a civil war, a civil war of ideas. The distinction is not between an Englishman and a German—[HON.MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—or an Englishman and a Frenchman or Dutchman, or person of any other nationality but between those who are agreed upon certain ideals and those who have different ideals. There are those who are suspect and not suspect in every group. That is where, if I may say so with all respect, the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) missed the way.
In that case does the hon. Member suggest that the whole nation of Germany was completely different under the Kaiser? Germany has been a danger to Europe for many years. It is idiotic not to face the facts.
The great question to which the War Office or the Home Office or some new authority will have to address itself is not the question whether a man is an Englishman, an Irishman or of some other nationality, but whether, within that nationality, he is a man who is worthy of credence and belief. That is the danger at present. Now we must have a special body charged with dealing with this task; on that body, wherever there is executive authority at the centre, there must be people who have some knowledge, not merely of routine and matters of a military character, but of the background of Continental politics; some persons who have contacts with and who speak the languages of the people concerned, and who are qualified to understand the relationships and meaning of international political groups. I should regard persons as unqualified and unfitted to perform the great services which can be rendered to our cause by proper dealing with this problem unless they have some of those qualities.
Previous speakers have referred to the fact that many aliens have rendered great service in this country to the national cause. Many who have asked to help us have not been allowed to do so. The policy which I believe, commands universal assent in this House, is that, in all these questions, national safety must come first, and, secondly, that everybody who is capable of rendering a contribution to the national cause shall be allowed to render it. If any such such person is hostile, he shall render the service under an armed guard; if he comes under some category of a less hostile degree, he shall render that service under conditions which are appropriate to the national safety. There are, on the Central Register in this country, many men who can only be described as giants in their sphere of human activity, whether it is scientific, in management or in engineering. All these persons should have an opportunity of rendering their service. Our enemies see to it that such persons do not languish in idleness in their country, but make the fullest use of them. Why do we not do the same?
There is another aspect of these matters to which I would refer. The aliens question in this country is being dealt with now in a way which will do our national cause the maximum amount of harm. I wonder whether hon. Members fully realise what the reversal of policy means, psychologically, not only to refugees and to aliens in this country who may have been under suspicion, but to their friends in foreign countries and the relatives to whom they have been writing. There has been a constant stream of letters from this country, saying: "We are treated differently in democratic England from the way in which we were treated in Nazi Germany," but those letters are no longer written or received. In the smallest possible number of words I want to try to depict the psychology with which the Home Office, or the new Board, will have to deal. When the war broke out, we were not, according to the then Prime Minister, fighting the German people. We were fighting Hitlerism.
It would be better if the hon. Lady kept her observations for a Secret Session. As I was saying, there was a national consensus of agreement at that time that we were not fighting the German people, but only Nazism, and Hitlerism. Refugees came to this country, and many people used their influence to bring them here. Money was subscribed in large quantites in order to support and help them. Their cases were investigated by the Home Office and were subsequently investigated by two tribunals. The cultural welfare of refugees in this country was well looked after. Series of lectures were arranged for them, and many Members of the Houses of Parliament addressed them. Present Members of the Cabinet took part in these cultural activities, speaking to the refugees with authority on aspects of the national life, the development of British democracy, scientific subjects and the like. The gratitude of these people can be adequately believed only by those who came into contact with the people. Perhaps hon. Members can realise what it means for an eminent man of science or of action to come to a strange country and to face the monotonous, drab and dreary existence of a life in a bed-sitting room in which there may be nothing to do but to go to one lecture per week. That was what it meant, and the treatment I have described was carried out. It was advertised far and wide as being a unique effort in the treatment of refugees.
That vision has now been shattered and, as we know, the utmost use is being made in Germany of this fact, with appropriate headlines from the English Press, with the object of showing that the enemies of Hitler in Germany are now the enemies of England. They ask, "Where are the much vaunted cultural virtues of Democracy?" That is what they are saying in Germany, and are beginning to say in America. They are saying that there is now no difference between the enemies of Nazism and of Democracy. That may seem to some people a matter of small consequence, but it is, in reality, of the utmost consequence, because the regeneration of Europe depends upon people who have still, in Germany and in other countries, democratic and reasonable sentiments. These beliefs are being shattered by the treatment of refugees in the last few weeks.
There has been cruelty. Cruelty was to be expected from the Nazis because they had adopted a policy which ruled out any considerations of common humanity. We expected cruelty there, as a type of disease and there was, in fact, sadistic cruelty which could be understood; but the kind of cruelty which comes from bad administration, from disorganised procedure between one Department and another, or from sheer stupidity, is intolerable. That is why I agree with the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) that things cannot go on as they are. We must have reconsideration of these matters. I would therefore say that I support in full the demand which has been made from all quarters of the House for reconsideration of the machinery, and I ask the Government to make a statement on this subject which will reassure the morale of the people of this country on this matter. People are profoundly disturbed by the arrests. They do not know the reason for them, and they misunderstand them. They think that they create great danger of helping the Nazis. They are touched to the heart by the cases of unspeakable cruelty which are being enacted among their friends. It would be well for the Government to make a plain statement that they do not regard every alien as hostile and as an enemy. For all practical purposes we have, I suggest, enough enemies on our hands at the present time, and we do not want to make any more. Let us make it clear that we do not regard every foreigner as hostile.
This is the first Debate we have had on the aliens question since the war started, and I welcome it. In fact, I wish we had had a Debate on the aliens question at a considerably earlier date. There appear to be misconceptions in the minds of hon. Members who have spoken. For that reason, I think I had better intervene at this stage, although I have not the slightest wish to curtail the Debate in any way. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for War are here to deal with any further questions which hon. Members may raise.
There are two main issues, as I see it, which were raised by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Major Cazalet) and, in passing, I should like to thank both of them for the kindly references which they made to myself. The two main issues which I have noticed were the policy of internment generally and the treatment of those who have been interned. The Home Office are responsible for the former, and, so far as male internees are concerned, the War Office have the principal responsibility for the conditions of internment. As this is the first occasion we have had of reviewing the position of aliens in this country, perhaps I may be forgiven if I recapitulate and go back to the outbreak of the war.
Britain's alien population, compared with that of other European countries, is very small. We had in this country on the outbreak of the war only 238,000 aliens from all countries, which compares with a figure in France of between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000. Of those 238,000 aliens of all kinds, about one-third were Germans and Austrians by nationality, but I think it is extremely important for the House to bear in mind that labels of nationality in Europe in the last 20 years have meant very little. They are no guide, or very little guide, to the sympathies of the individual or to his reliability. Of course, the great bulk of these Germans and Austrians had come in during the last six years as refugees, on account of either their politics, their religion or their race. The rest were in many cases Austrians, in some cases Ger- mans, who had resided here for long periods, and in some cases the British born wives of Germans.
The security problem, so far as the Home Office was concerned, was to make sure that on the outbreak of the war we interned all whom we thought to be potentially dangerous. On the outbreak of the war we interned every man and woman who was on the security list. Some who were on that list had gone back to Germany; some had been permitted to go and others had been prevented from going, but every known suspect who was still in this country was interned on the outbreak of the war, and our policy at that time was, rightly or wrongly, to submit every enemy alien to individual examination. I want hon. Members to realise the number of stages through which these enemy aliens have gone in the individual examinations to which they have been subjected. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) suggested that we should set up some new tribunals to examine the aliens who had been recently interned, but, quite frankly, I do not think it would be of the slightest use to establish new tribunals at this time.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if I misunderstood him. I understood that he wanted further inquiries to be made into the characters of these aliens who have now been interned. Practically all the aliens who have come to this country in the last five or six years have been sponsored either by a refugee organisation or by a private individual. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Colonel Wedgwood) has been very active in sponsoring a very considerable number of refugees. Apart from that vouching of character by the organisation or the individual, there was then an examination by the British Consul abroad of the bona fides of the individuals who wished to come. Then there was a scrutiny by the immigration officer when the alien came into this country. After landing, the alien had to report and register with the local police, and since the outbreak of the war every German and Austrian has been before a tribunal of some kind or another; many of them have been before two tribunals—one of the original tribunals and a Regional Advisory Committee. I can only say, on behalf of the Home Secretary and myself, that I wish we knew half as much about many of the neutral aliens and many British subjects as we know about the enemy aliens now in this country.
Let the House look at this question from the point of view of security. Security must, in the view of the Home Office, always be the paramount consideration. At the same time, let it be clear that you can never obtain absolute, guaranteed 100 per cent. security. If we were to aim at that we should have to lock up an immensely large number of people, and the numbers engaged in guarding them would be so great that there would perhaps be only a minority of the population left to proceed with the war effort. You can never obtain perfect security. All you can hope to obtain is an adequate degree of security and that you will be able to discover and eradicate any organisation that may exist amongst enemies of the State. My right hon. Friend and I realised the risks we were running in leaving these refugees and enemy aliens alone. We knew that if a serious act of espionage or sabotage were attributed to and proved against any of them, both he and I would be blown sky-high by the House of Commons and the country. However, we felt fairly confident, and I should like to pay my tribute to the behaviour of these refugees in that they have shown themselves worthy of the confidence which we have placed in them. Apart from one or two petty, isolated instances, such as the undergraduate, Mr. Solf, who photographed a burning aeroplane, and one or two black-out offences, there have been no serious cases of acts hostile to the State which can be attributed to these people.
We must also admit that among these people there are bound to be some "bad hats," but many of them are distinguished men, the few remaining embers of a dying fire of Liberalism in Europe. There are distinguished scientists, engineers and men of learning who have rendered considerable services to the war effort of this country, and whenever we have set in motion any general measure of internment we have invariably found that we have had very quickly to arrange for the release of those who were contributing to our war effort in a way which nobody else could replace. It is easy to be wise after the event. There are those who say we should have interned them all after the outbreak of war, and then have arranged for the release of individuals. I do not think that that would have been satisfactory. In the first place, the mere internment of an individual creates suspicion about him in the minds of those who know him. In the second place, when I reflect upon the number of letters that I got from the general public and from Members of this House protesting about the internment of the few hundreds that we did intern, I confess tint I am terrified at the thought of what my correspondence might have been had we gone in for general internment.
Throughout the winter and until early in May we were able, with some support in this House, to resist the clamour to "intern the lot." After what I have said, hon. Members may think that I shall have some difficulty in justifying the policy which the Home Office have pursued since the beginning of May, but the House must remember that the invasion and overrunning of Holland and Belgium, and the disaster of that overrunning of Holland and Belgium, which was attributed in the public mind so largely to Fifth Column activities, made a radical change in the situation. The people of this country were not able to realise the great distinction between our position and the position of Holland and Belgium. Holland, for instance, had a treaty with Germany, whereby they could not refuse the admission of any German, and I am told that something like 300,000 Germans had come into Holland shortly before the act of aggression. Moreover, the public did not realise that those countries were at peace with Germany, and were only too anxious to appease Germany at the time that these disasters took place.
We were faced, however, with a completely new military situation when Holland and Belgium fell under enemy control. For the first time, we were faced with an enemy in possession of ports very close to this country. It was represented to us by the military authorities, on military grounds, that the whole of the coastal belt on the East and South-East Coasts of England must be made into a protected area. Not only did they press upon us that enemy aliens, about whom we knew so much, should be turned out, but they pressed upon us also that neutral aliens, about whom we knew much less, should be removed. It was, in my view, quite impossible when a policy of this kind was put forward by those responsible for the defence of this country against invasion to refuse to accept it under those circumstances. The result of declaring the whole of the eastern and south-eastern coastal belts a protected area was that large numbers of aliens were torn up from the shallow roots which they had been able to acquire since they came here and had to remove. They had no jobs, and had to proceed, with public feeling what it was at that time, in the face of suspicion and mistrust.
The military authorities asked for the removal of all aliens from this coastal belt. The only practical method of dealing with the situation was, in fact, to intern the males. It really would have been impossible to have forced a flood of many thousands of aliens into places where they were not known and where they would have had no jobs. In my view, the most humane thing to do with those aliens at that time, and with public feeling what it was, was to put them into temporary internment.
The day before yesterday the Minister, in reply to a Question by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities, said that he proposed to exempt from internment those who had been distinguished by special service to the national cause. Is that to apply in respect of any future internment only, or does it relate to those who have already been interned? Will they be allowed out if they can show that they have rendered great service to the national cause?
I was dealing with the intention of the Home Office at the time that this policy was initiated, on 11th May. What the future development may be depends, of course, on the course of the war; and nobody in this House would be bold enough at the present time to make a prediction about that. After that first step, which was intended to be of a temporary character, had been taken, a number of new factors appeared. There was, in the first place, greatly increased unemployment amongst aliens of all kinds. It became increasingly hard for these refugees to find jobs. If they fell out of jobs they could not get others. The burden on the refugee organisations was greatly increased—and indirectly, of course, to some extent, the prospective burden on the Government, which now makes a contribution to the funds of those organisations, was increased also. It was further felt that in the event of serious air raids on this country many of these people would be in personal danger. I considered this particularly in relation to the Team Valley, where a number of enemy aliens and refugees were carrying on useful trades and businesses. I considered the question with the local authorities up there. I was assured by those who spoke for them that, in the event of serious air raids in that district, there would be serious danger to those refugees.
From our own people. There was danger of violence and of charges that these people were giving signals, and, by methods of that kind, assisting the enemy. There was a further consideration. Many of these refugees were at that time in a state of such alarm, on account of the hostility and suspicion which was shown towards them, that they themselves came to us and asked us to pursue a policy of internment for their own personal safety. The last, and the most urgent, of all the considerations which weighed with us was that this policy was strongly advocated by the military authorities. It is very difficult, I think, to decide at this stage of the war whether what we have done is wise or otherwise. At one time the feeling in the country and in this House was entirely in favour of these refugees. That feeling changed in the early days of May. To-day it is swinging back in the other direction. But, the policy having been decided upon, and the decision having been taken, so far as the Home Office was then concerned, it became a question of carrying out the policy in a humane and reasonable manner, as far as possible.
It has been said that we have acted on no plan and have created confusion in the minds of these poor people. We have acted upon a plan. We have not, however, been able to announce the plan in advance for very obvious reasons, but we have proceeded upon this plan, which was, after the first sweep-up in the coastal area, to intern those men who have been placed in Category B by the tribunals, and, after that, to intern the women who had been placed in the same category. In the third place we decided that if we had to proceed to further stages, the right thing to do was to intern those who were unemployed before we interned those who were employed, and subsequent steps have been taken area by area.
My hon. Friend told the House that the internment of aliens in the protected areas was taken at the request of the military authorities. Can he tell the House whether the military authorities have asked that all the other aliens should be interned? Was that done at the instance of the military authorities?
I made it clear that one of the factors in taking this decision, for which the Home Secretary takes full responsibility, was that it was advocated by the military authorities.
I want to deal with the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities, who quoted an individual case of inconsiderate behaviour by the police in carrying out these internments. That case is quite contrary to all my experience, and I think it is the experience of those who know some of these refugees that, generally speaking, great consideration and care has been exercised by the police, and I shall be pleased to look into any individual cases which are brought to my notice. But I would like to pay my tribute to the consideration and humane conduct of the police in dealing with aliens. The hon. Lady asked whether there were any exceptions and whether the police were given any discretion as regards internment of category C aliens. It is obvious that the police must, and do, immediately arrest any alien, or in fact any British subject, whom they have any reasonable cause to suspect of any wrongful or harmful activities, but as far as category C aliens are concerned against whom nothing is known, careful instructions have been given to the police as to the exceptions which they are to make, and I hope and believe that these instructions are being carefully followed.
I was going on to give some indication of the sort of classes which are included and to consider the question of whether it is possible to publish in some form or other a broad outline of these exceptions. In the first place, persons under 16 and over 70 are exempted. The invalids and the infirm are exempted, and the police have special instructions that a person should be regarded as exempted if he can produce medical evidence which satisfies the police that he needs continuous medical attention. That ought to cover the class of case which the hon. Lady mentioned in her speech, and I am very glad she did so, and that she has sent to my office particulars of cases in which she alleges that that instruction has not been followed. The instructions include categories of persons who are engaged as key workers in industries performing work of national importance, and categories of persons granted permits to work by the Aliens War Services Department. There are doctors of medicine and dentists who have been given permission by the Secretary of State to practise in this country. There are persons whose emigration from this country has been arranged, and we are releasing from internment persons whose emigration has been arranged when their due date comes round. There are members who either are in, or have been in, the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. There are persons holding key positions in refugee organisations, and in certain circumstances persons who employ British labour where British labour will be thrown out of employment if their employers, the aliens, are interned. Then there are persons who have a son or sons serving in the Navy, Army or Air Force, and persons engaged in agriculture, food growing or forestry. The hon. Lady is under a misapprehension in thinking that persons engaged in agriculture have not been exempted.
Is not the rule about agriculture new, because there have been so many cases where aliens have been interned if engaged in agriculture? There have been scores if not hundreds of cases.
The general internment of Class C aliens only began on 22nd June. The problem is therefore quite new, and it is because we have found out by experience the hardships which are caused by measures of general internment that we have acted on our experience and introduced these classes of exceptions.
It is extremely technical, and I think it would be better if I considered the publication of some document for the guidance of hon. Members on the subject. There are some boys who reached the age of 16 after they arrived here and since the outbreak of war, and who were too late to be placed before a tribunal. They were therefore automatically treated as enemy aliens and subjected to the B restrictions. The result of that was that in our original scheme for B aliens, these boys, who were over 16, were interned. We have ordered the release of all boys between 16 and 18 who were undergoing whole-time education in a boarding school.
So far as conditions in the camps are concerned, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War will no doubt go into the matter in detail, but we at the Home Office do not intend to divest ourselves of all responsibility for the welfare of these people once they have been interned. I myself went round the internment camps during last winter and made a number of suggestions where I thought that things might be improved, and, on the whole, I was very well satisfied with the conditions as they then were. So far as women are concerned, they are directly under the Home Office, and between 3,000 and 4,000 are now interned in the Isle of Man. The only complaints which I have had about their treatment so far is that it is too good and not too bad.
I want to say a few words about future plans and future policy. Many hon. Members are as anxious, as I am, to try and arrange in some way for married couples, especially older people, to be interned together. We are conducting an inquiry into this question at the present time, and I hope it will be possible for something to be arranged—
I think I had better pass on and say that at any rate, if we get a start with elderly people, who for security reasons are less dangerous than others, it seems to me that that is the line of policy that we ought to pursue.
An inquiry is necessary because the provision of all the necessary services is very difficult to arrange. I do not know whether the hon. Member has been in an interment camp, but if he has, he will know that a great deal of detailed organisation in regard to bathing, feeding and cooking arrangements is required. It is not as easy as the hon. Member appears to think to arrange for large numbers of married couples, possibly with children, to be interned in the same camp. The
hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) spoke with some warmth about the question of sending refugees to the Dominions, and I quite realise the natural anxiety in the minds of Members, particularly in view of the tragic disaster to the "Arandora Star." The Minister of Shipping gave an answer yesterday in regard to that ship, in which he said that:
… the Germans on board were Nazi sympathisers and that none came to this country as refugees. None had Category B or C certificates or were recognised as friendly aliens."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1940; col. 1075, Vol. 362.]
That, at any rate, ought to be some relief to the relatives of the refugees now in this country.
I have been given the names of two German trade union leaders, Valentine Witte and Louis Weber, the latter of whom belonged to the German Seamen's Union, who are definitely known to have gone down with the ship. I am told that 21 Austrian Socialists who were on board, have arrived back safely in this country and have been asking their organisation for financial assistance. Would the hon. Gentleman look into these facts?
The hon. Member will appreciate that all that the War Office, who have custody of these men, have is a nominal role of the names of those on board. They have to check against that the names of those saved before they can arrive at the names of the missing. Having arrived at the names of the missing, they transmit those names to the Home Office—I am not sure whether they have been received yet—who transmit them to the refugee organisations because it is only the refugee organisations who will be able to get in touch with the relatives.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind, when he is talking about refugee aliens on board this ship, that we have in Liverpool many people bemoaning the loss of their own sons?
The hon. Member is perfectly justified in making that statement. Now I want to say something about the general policy of sending refugees overseas, because some Members are under a considerable misapprehension. Canada has agreed to take 6,000 to 7,000 prisoners of war and internees. They have all now arrived there, and the categories sent have been, in priority, prisoners of war, Nazi seamen who have been interned and rank as civilian internees, internees who have been interned for security purposes, single men in category B, and particularly those who took no objection to going. So far as possible, therefore, we have sent to Canada the most dangerous classes of internees, and where we have had to make up the number we have selected single men under the age of 50 and in preference those who expressed a wish to go. The Italians who were included for sending to Canada were those who had been interned for security reasons.
Now I want to turn to a more hopeful aspect of this question of the transference of internees. Australia has expressed her willingness to receive not only men but women and children, and the possibility opens up before us of reuniting families and sending them to Australia. I am sure the House will welcome that statement and the fact that we have assurances from both the Canadian and Australian authorities that they will treat these people with all possible humanity—
Certainly as internees, although since they are further from the battle front they will probably enjoy a greater measure of liberty and be open to less suspicion than if they remained in this country.
There is one other matter on which I wish to say a word, and that is the question of employment. Ever since last winter, when I visited internment camps, I recognised the primary consideration that if you are to have a large body of men in internment, you must give them some form of regular employment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour informs me that he has something in his mind which we hope will lead to some suitable avenues being found through which these internees can be employed. It is exceedingly difficult in a confined space to employ large numbers of people, because of the rather elaborate machinery that is required if you are to provide regular employment, but in the case of category C aliens, where no security consideration arises, they should be employed wherever possible in suitable avocations, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has some scheme in mind which will help in that matter.
I gathered from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War that all these refugees who are interned are only under the War Office from the point of view of administration. Do we understand that, in so far as releasing them on compassionate or any other grounds is concerned, they will remain under the Home Office and not the War Office, and that if the Home Office decide to release them, they do not have to get permission from the War Office?
The answer to that is quite clear. It is "Yes." The Home Office retains complete control over the release of these persons, and if we find that anyone has been wrongly interned who ought to have been exempted by the police, we shall immediately order his release. Whilst Members feel strongly on both sides of the question, we at the Home Office have tried to pursue a fair and dispassionate policy throughout. I should like to assure hon. Members that, while continuing to regard security as the paramount consideration, we shall always endeavour to temper it with the common dictates of humanity.
The hon. Gentleman, I think, has been the most humane official at the Home Office, and yet to-day he seemed to be a good man struggling with adversity. His heart was in the right place, but he felt bound to defend an administration which is too easily swayed by the "Daily Mail" and by the agitation of uneducated, panicky people. I do not think that any of us on these benches have the slightest reason to complain of the methods adopted by the Home Office in dealing with the victims of Nazi terrorism. Sometimes they have seemed a little harsh, but they have during these first six months of the war carried out their duties with an extreme desire to achieve both justice and safety. The Under-Secretary alluded to what I managed to do in getting refugees, into this country. I have, under his careful guidance, got no fewer than 222 of these valuable refugees, as I believe them to be, into the country. It is true that I was only following in the footsteps of Jack Hills, formerly Financial Secretary to the War Office, but in doing that work what has been at the back of our minds is that we might get a considerable addition not only to the fighting power of the country but to the general, intellectual, productive capacity of the country. All that I have seen of the number of refugees that I got into the country convinced me that they were, one and all, a very valuable addition. Many of them have gone into industry, some have become doctors and dentists, some have gone into domestic service and many others have gone on to America. But every single man that I got over immediately volunteered for service in the Army and in the A.R.P. directly those two openings were available.
For one short fortnight when the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was Secretary of State for War, he stated that he would allow refugee aliens to go into the Army. I took them down en masse to the nearest recruiting station, where we were faced with an out-of-date minute from the War Office saying that no alien was to be admitted, but there is no doubt that all the males that I brought into the country wanted to fight. Many of them were officers who fought for the Austrians in the last war. All these offers have been refused, all made genuinely, and it is because of that that I see in this wave of internment cum "Daily Mail" panic from which we have been suffering lately a wholly incorrect view of what this war means and is. The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) referred ever and always to German aliens or French aliens. This war is not a matter of nationality at all. It is a war of religion, the religion of freedom as against the religion of dictatorship. We are no longer divided, as we were in the last war, between English and Germans and Austrians and French. All throughout the world we are either on the side of democracy and freedom or on the side of slavish submission to the authority of one man. Probably there are fewer adherents of Hitlerism in this country than in any other in the world, but even here there is a certain number of people, Fascists, followers of Mosley, defeatists, who are definitely on the other side, not because they belong to a different race, but because they belong to a different religion. Those people are dangerous to us when we are fighting for liberty. The refugees who are by the very condition of their existence definitely and eternally hostile to Hitlerism are the people who must most naturally be on our side. Over and over again, speeches on both sides have shown that this is indeed a war of religion, or opinion, or ideology—call it what you will. It divides the world up on quite other than nationalist lines.
That point of view has been completely absorbed by this House and by all intelligent people in this country, but it is not absorbed by the hon. Member for Frome, by the "Daily Mail" or by the Security Department of the War Office. It is because of that that we are in the trouble in which we find ourselves to-day, and you have the Security Department of the War Office interning all the best, the convinced friends of freedom, and leaving at large all those people, like the Fascist Members and a great many others whom we all could name, who are convinced enemies of all that we are fighting for. They have interned as dangerous those very people who would be in most danger in a Hitlerised England. It has been proved, not only in this country, but in Holland, France and other countries, that not one of these victims of Hitler has been a traitor to the country which has given him refuge, but there have been any number of cases of people who, after living for a long time in Germany, have come back to this country—British subjects brought up in Germany, and perhaps not speaking a word of English—imbued with the spirit of the new religion. I do not know what is happening to them, but I should say that there you have one of the gravest dangers to all people who are fighting for the other sort of religion.
Hon. Members do not seem to realise that a great many of those internees about whom the Under-Secretary spoke have given better proof of their solidarity with out side than have even the Jews who fled from Germany. A great many of these internees—some of those who went down on the "Arandora Star"—are men who have spent their lives in fighting for the liberty of their own countries. There are three Italians of whom I know who had fought Mussolini throughout their lives. They were put on the "Arandora Star." I do not know whether or not they lost their lives. They were old men, and I think they are dead. Many men who fought in Spain were probably on board that ship. They are interned in great numbers to-day in Stafford Gaol, and I suppose in other prisons. They were members of the French Foreign Legion. They fought at Narvik; they came back from Narvik and were sent to Brest; and they came back from Brest to England. At Narvik and Brest they saw the relations that exist between the British soldiers and British officers. They are now interned because they declined to remain under French officers who were Petainists. They are unable to fight for the cause which they love so well under British officers who would treat them as soldiers and not as criminals. Some of them may have been on the "Arandora Star."
Spaniards and Jews of the Foreign Legion who fought on. the Republican side. The point I want to make is that there is this division in the world between those people who are prepared to fight for liberty and those who are not. When we see the War Office imprisoning those people who want to fight for liberty and leaving at large the people who are on the other side, I begin to wish we could leave the government of this matter to the Home Office and not entrust it quite so much to the War Office. Most hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate have asked for better treatment of the Jews, aliens and so on in the camps, the possibility of getting some of them out, and of rectifying mistakes. What I want to stop is not only injustice, but the stupidity of locking up those who should be our friends and who would fight for us, but who would never care to surrender, and leaving at liberty those people who are, and who will remain, a danger to this country because they dislike liberty and love dictatorship. It is not a question of humanity in a few camps; it is a question of whether the policy of this country is directed towards winning the war or towards making the world safe for the War Office.
Let me refer to the case of the Jews and aliens who joined the Pioneer Corps. Many of them joined upon my recommendation. They were allowed to go and work in France, but, of course, being aliens and being haters of Hitler, they were not given arms. I have been talking with their commandinging officer, who is a Member of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans). He said they were the finest troops he had ever commanded. He provided them with arms. His commanding officer said at first, "Is it safe to let them have arms?" They proved to be the best soldiers of the lot, because they did not dare to be caught. They fought to the end; most got out; and directly they got back to England, they were disarmed. It is childish. If we want to win the war, we must stop interning those people who are our friends and use them—in making munitions, in agriculture, in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. They are all willing to join the Air Force. They do not mind death; they have been fighting nearer to death than any of us have been. They are the very material we want for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The War Office disarms them, and sends them to concentration camps. What sort of a War Office is that? The representative of the War Office is no longer on the Government Front Bench, but there is another right hon. Gentleman whom I want to be present, and who is not here. We were told by the Under-Secretary that the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the shipping of those internees to Canada—shipping them off without allowing them to communicate with their parents—is the Lord President of the Council. Apparently, he is responsible for the shipping and the interning, and responsible for the policy which we are fighting to-night. He does not even take the trouble to come here.
I am not quite sure to which question the hon. Gentleman is referring. I gave notice of the intention to raise the general question of the whole policy and the question of unified control.
What I have tried to point out was that had the hon. Lady specifically mentioned this question of the transfer to the Dominions, I would have informed my right hon. Friend so that he could have been present.
Then I have never heard so lukewarm a defence of a policy as that given by the Under-Secretary of State. I am perfectly certain if we are now interning Class C aliens, after all they have been through, after being exempted by the Home Office tribunals, and having been proved innocent, the Home Office must have had some pretty strong pressure brought to bear upon them before consenting to undo all their own work and start over again. This matter of never being able to pin down responsibility on any Department is one of the greatest difficulties any critic can meet in trying to put anything right. This Debate may have thrown some light upon affairs, but obviously it would have been much better if we had had present, for instance, the Minister of Shipping, who made the statement, yesterday, that there were no refugees on board that ship. To-day, within 24 hours, we now know that that statement was false, and the man who made it and the man who ordered these people to go to Canada are not here.
We were informed by the Minister for Shipping that "all the Germans on board were Nazi sympathisers and that none came to this country as refugees." We now hear of 20, out of Heaven knows how many, who have been saved. We hear nothing about the Italians, who certainly are not Nazi sympathisers, who were also on board that boat and probably lost. We do not even know whether there were or were not 200 refugees on board, although we see in the newspapers stories from people who survived that there had been trouble oil board because the Nazis insisted on putting up the swastika flag and forcing the non-Nazis to salute it. What sort of discipline is there on board a ship which allows that sort of thing? I also noticed in one of the accounts that 200 of the deportees were battened down below and were unable to get out. I do not know what truth there is in that, but it haunts me to think that those 200 down below might have been the people who refused to salute the Nazi flag.
Does the right hon. and gallant Member say that the Nazi flag was flying on board the "Arandora Star"? On Sunday evening I saw that boat myself. I saw the British soldiers on board, and I am fully convinced that no swastika flag could ever fly on the "Arandora Star."
The flag was pinned up in one of the wardrooms where the Nazis were. I do not know whether it is true, but these are accounts from the survivors which have appeared in the Press. I want to know, if it is true, how the Government can reconcile it to the discipline on board that ship. Any inquiry has been refused, and we are to take whatever happened as though it was an act of God instead of the result of incompetent administration.
I am glad to see that we have at last a responsible Minister on the Front Bench, and perhaps I may be permitted to repeat what I have been saying. We have been told by the Under-Secretary that the person responsible for putting these people on the "Arandora Star" was the Lord President of the Council. He must have known that this subject would have been debated to-night. Why is he not present? We have also been told that the person responsible for sending these people to Canada was the Lord President of the Council. He was responsible for the deportation, not merely of Nazis and prisoners of war, but of men who fought for us, for our cause in Spain, for our cause against Mussolini, and we have no evidence whatever that this process will not be continued. How much longer will this Government refuse to realise that this is not a war between the nations, but the last stand of people who love freedom enough to die for it? You put our friends into the internment camp, but you allow Mosley's gang, and all those people who have come back from Germany who, because they are British subjects, you keep wrapped up, although they cannot speak a word of English and hate everything for which we stand. All these people are allowed to go free and untouched, and yet the refugees from Nazism are liable to be interned at any moment, and to be taken away from their wives and families.
I had a case the other day of one of my men who for two years has struggled to obtain a visa for New Zealand for himself and his wife and child. I got his child educated at a cathedral school. The man is on old officer of the Austrian Army, and he and his wife have been earning their living as a butler and a cook. At last they obtained their visa, and their sailing was fixed for the 4th of this month, but on the 1st of this month he was taken by the police and carried off. Neither the Home Office nor the War Office could find him. He was mislaid. Of course, they missed the ship, and the man is still in internment. All passages to New Zealand have been stopped, and apparently he is to remain in internment for the duration of the war.
A mistake may have occurred in the case which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has cited, but I made it clear in my speech that where emigration had been arranged or where arrangements for emigration came to fruition during a man's internment, he would be immediately released so that he could take up his emigration.
That was the intention, but it is an instance of what I said, that the police do not carry out the intention of the Government. I was told by the head of the principal refugee organisation yesterday that he knew of a large number of cases of people who had everything arranged to go into the United States of America, but they were interned. They lost their passages, and their chance has gone.
That is something, at any rate. So many of these mistakes have occurred, and if these people can get out it is something. The real mistake is not that of the police or the Home Office, but the mistake of the War Office in putting friends into internment instead of allowing them to go into the Army. There could be a way out of the difficulty if the War Office would permit the formation of a foreign legion. They should take out of internment everyone of these refugees, whether they be Jew or Christian or Socialist, and allow them to be in a foreign legion under British officers to do what they have always wanted to do, and what they have done in Spain and in France, and fight for freedom. The War Office is not represented here now, and I hope the Under-Secretary will report to them not only that the House believes, but that he believes, that these men would be far better with arms in their hands fighting in a foreign legion under British officers instead of being a perpetual charge to the public of this country, and being forced by sheer injustice into losing their faith in British honour and in the British love of freedom.
I want to say one or two things in reply to some of those who with great sincerity think, but I believe think wrongly, that they have represented the views of friendly refugees. In his admirable speech my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary dealt so fully with nearly all the points that I wish to add very little. I was surprised at the heat which this Debate has engendered because I should have thought that in every quarter of the House Members would agree on two points. The first is that the safety of the State must be the first consideration; and the second is that, provided the safety of the State was secured, as much humanity as possible should be exercised and no avoidable hardship imposed. These, we can agree, are the two aims. I am surprised that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who made such a fervent speech, should have suggested that it was difficult in this matter to pin down responsibility and that one Minister was always transferring responsibility to somebody else. I do not think that he can have heard the passage in the Under-Secretary's speech in which he said in the clearest terms that the Home Office accepted full responsibility for policy. Whether that policy is right or wrong, my hon. Friend accepted responsibility for it and gave, I thought, an excellent defence of it. On the, question of public safety, the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) spoke as if the fact that a man was a refugee from Nazi oppression was in itself a guarantee that he would be harmless to this country.
I did not say that, and I do not think the Noble Lord did. It is strong presumptive evidence that if a man is a victim of a Nazi oppression he is a friend of this country. He is first combed out carefully by the tribunal after he has been watched for months and sometimes for years by refugee organisations, who see him every week, and after he has lived in hostels under reliable British guidance, and after he has had guarantors. What greater guarantee can you have?
I agree that many of these matters may raise a presumption in favour of the refugee, but the Under-Secretary pointed out what happened in Holland and Belgium. I heard of a remarkable case in Holland of a man who went to that country as a refugee from Nazi oppression, and after the Nazi conquest of that country he was given a job by the Nazi Government. Such facts suggest the possibility to reasonable minds that there are some among these refugees who are dangerous to this country. Let me deal with a matter which genuinely interests many refugees. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme talked about the policy which has been adopted as one of panic. It is rather presumptuous to suggest that a policy, admittedly taken on the advice of our military authorities, is a policy of panic.
Because I do not think that our military authorities are suffering from panic. That may be the view of the hon. Member, but it is certainly not mine. Let me take this alternative supposition. Supposing for a moment that it was a policy due to panic and, if you like, to unreasonable panic, but that such fear was widespread, are hon. Members quite sure that they are representing the interests of the refugee himself when they demand, at a time when this country is threatened with invasion, that a man against whom a widespread, even if unreasonable, suspicion exists should be left at large? It seems to me that it would be fantastic to-day. If there is, as we believe, an imminent danger of invasion and of widespread bombing from the air, then surely it must be contrary to the interests of aliens against whom even unreasonable suspicion exists that they should be left at large. It may be the last thing the alien wants. The Under-Secretary has told us how in May requests for internment came from a great number of refugees themselves.
I will repeat what I said, and if the Under-Secretary wishes to correct me, he will do so. He said that in May—he was referring particularly to a trading estate—aliens employed there were glad to be interned because they were fearful of what their fate would be if there was bombing from the air.
My hon. Friend is not quite accurate. What I said in regard to the trading estate was that persons who knew the locality and were familiar with the conditions up there assured me that aliens in charge of industrial undertakings there would be in danger if heavy air raids took place.
I am glad that the point has been cleared up, and I am sure that hon. Members will believe that I have no desire to misrepresent what was said. It might be wrong to mention some methods which I believe have come to light, and will be known to the Home Office, by which pressure has in some cases been brought to bear on refugees themselves by organs of the German Government. But I do not believe that anybody who can imagine the diabolical methods of the Gestapo, and who realises that even the most genuine refugees generally come here only by consent of the Gestapo, will be altogether astonished that the Gestapo has been able to bring great pressure to bear upon some of these refugees. I think many passages in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) were misunderstood. I believe that there is a great danger in the refugee problem, though I am not thereby saying that the great majority classed as Category C are not absolutely sound. What I deplore is that any speeches should have been made in this House which suggest, just because this country at a time when it is threatened with invasion has thought it necessary to intern some of these aliens, that thereby it is treating them no differently from the way in which they were treated in Germany. That is really fantastic. I happen to know from actual conversations with some refugees that they would utterly reject some of the pleas that have been made on their behalf to-night. The last thing which some of those who have recently been interned as a measure of precaution would say is that England has not treated them differently from the way in which they have been treated in the lands from which they came. They understand perfectly that at times of grave danger it is necessary for the State to consider its own safety first.
I believe that the attitude which the Home Office has adopted has been reasonable and wise, but I would add that I join with the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities in desiring that certain principles should, if possible, be observed. I think she suggested that it was not desirable to send aliens away to the Dominions, at least that it was not generally desirable, but I very much doubt that. I think the Australian scheme described by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to-night may appeal to many refugees. That is a scheme by which the man and his wife and children may be able to go to Australia. The hon. Lady said they ought not to go to internment there, but, of course, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the War Office, that must be a matter for the Dominion itself. It would be impossible for any Government authority in this country to make that condition, but inasmuch as when the family reach Australia they will be in an area where, presumably, the risk of imminent invasion will not exist, they may from the beginning have greater freedom than it is possible to give them in this country at this moment, and thereafter it may be possible, after such inquiry as the Dominion itself thinks proper, to give them liberty in that Dominion.
If the differences between us are no greater than that I am very glad. In conclusion I suggest that we should not exaggerate our differences on this issue. There is really unanimity that the safety of the State has to come first, there is unanimity that, provided we secure that safety, we should avoid causing unnecessary suffering, and there is unanimity, I should have thought, that the Home Office is endeavouring to achieve both those objects. If we are agreed on those three things, surely we can all refrain from giving Dr. Goebbels the material which he seeks by saying in this House that we have not treated these refugees better than they have been treated in the countries from which they came.
I agree with the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) that there is general agreement in regard to the principles which should be applied to this refugee question, but I do not think the House is quite unanimous, because an hon. Lady who spoke earlier felt, apparently, very violently on this question along lines very different from those followed by the hon. Member for Norwich or myself. I gathered that she wanted to intern all German refugees in this country. What is important is the method of application of the principles enunciated by the hon. Member who spoke last, with which principles I fully agree. As I listened to the Under-Secretary of State, it struck me that he was putting forward admirable arguments, which led to just the opposite conclusion from that which he reached. He told us that we knew all about the German refugees who came into this country who had all been examined over and over again. That suggested to us that, if there had been any suspicion about any of them, it was known, and they would have been put away long ago. I gathered from his speech that, as a result of public pressure and pressure from the War Office, all the precautions of the Home Office were thrown overboard, all the exemptions were torn up and put into the waste paper basket and that the order had gone out, as it has indeed gone out, that all enemy aliens of "C" category, with some small exceptions, were to be interned, however keen anti-Nazi those aliens might be, and however much they had fought and suffered for the cause for which this country is now fighting.
I do not think that the Home Office should have listened to public opinion in this matter without putting up a case against the clamour which was being waged, particularly in some of the more irresponsible newspapers. Moreover, and I say it with all respect to the hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Government Front Bench, I do not think this is so much a military matter. The War Office may have said: "We have to be careful about aliens in this country," but we all know that spies may be a danger. If the War Office said to the Home Office: "We would like to see all enemy aliens interned," the Home Office gave in to that pressure and, acting upon the suggestion, put into internment camps all sorts of people whom they know to be bona fide refugees.
I do not want to keep the House long, but I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to the War Office and the hon. Member who spoke last, what possible public cause or public purpose there can be in interning some types of people who have recently been interned. Perhaps I may give a few examples. I understand that a very famous author who has for long written books against Hitler and has been struggling against Hitler for many years, has been put into an internment camp. He is Rudolf Olden and he wrote a book called "Hitler, the Pawn," as well as other books. His position cannot be in doubt. Now, he can no longer carry on his anti-Nazi propaganda. There is another man called Haffner who has written a book entitled "Hitler—Jekyll or Hyde?" exposing the Nazi machine and suggesting methods by which we can beat it. He has been put into internment, where he can no longer use his brains or experience in helping to fight Nazism. These are category "C" people. There is no suspicion about the category "C" people, and I do not think there can be. What is the public purpose or common sense in putting that kind of person into an internment camp?
There are many other authors and journalist refugees here who have spent all their time trying to show the people of this country how best to beat the Nazi enemy, but we have put them away into internment. They do not want to be there for their own safety. They want to he out, and they will take all the risk there is, as long as they can use their brains and experience in helping us to fight this war. It is obvious that there is no keener band of anti-Nazis in this country than those refugees who have experienced Nazism themselves, have been persecuted by the Nazis, and who realise, practically all of them, that the only hope of defeating this enemy, who has tortured them or their relatives and destroyed everything they value, is victory for England in this war. They are anxious to help Great Britain to win the war but we put these people, including great fighters for Democracy, into internment camps. That is contrary to common sense and to the finest traditions of this country.
Let me give a few other cases. I shall be very interested to see whether anybody can justify this type of internment. There is a boy in my constituency who lives next door to my local Labour party office. He was born in Germany but his mother was English and his father German. He came to this country when he was a few months old, being brought here by his mother. He has lived in this country ever since. He does not know a word of German. He is now 16 years of age and I am told that he is a boy of rather exceptional ability of whom his employer is remarkably proud because he is doing extremely well. Nevertheless, technically, he is German although he cannot speak a word of German and is not interested in German matters. He is a typical, ardent young man of 16. He is put away in internment. He is in category "C," of course. Another case is that of a family of refugees who came here a few years ago. They consisted of two rather elderly parents and a young man. At the first possible moment the young man joined the Pioneer Corps and is still there working with the British Army. If he were not in the Pioneers, I suppose he would be in an internment camp now. His mother is just under 60, and his father is 80. Naturally, the father, being an old man, is not at all well. The only person who could look after him was his wife, who was just under 60. They are in category C and there is no suspicion about them of any sort, yet the woman was taken away a couple of weeks ago. She has a boy serving in the Army, yet she is put into an internment camp. What, in the name of commonsense, is the purpose of doing that?
I suggest that this policy of security, in which we all believe—because the first consideration must be the security of this country—has been turned into one of wholesale internment of our friendliest people, and that the whole thing has run wild. I have given only two or three examples, but I could repeat any number of similar cases where it is obviously utterly ridiculous and unjustifiable to put away people in this country who are perfectly innocent and who have no interest at all in helping Germany, such as the authors or the boy of 16, and well-known anti-Fascist fighters such as those I have mentioned. They are put into internment camps. I suggest that the policy announced by the Under-Secretary of State this evening should be modified and that the exceptions which he mentioned, and which will be a very small proportion of these categories, should be revised, so that people who, for example, have been working openly for years, fighting an anti-Nazi battle in Germany and this country, and who show willingness and capacity to continue to do so, might be released. Proved anti-Nazi warriors should be released. I suggest that other categories should be women of the type I have mentioned, who have sons serving in the Pioneer Corps, and boys of 16 who have never been in or near Germany since they were a year old and against whom there is no suspicion. Those types of aliens should be exempt from internment.
I hope that the Government, before they finally decide upon the exceptions in the list announced this evening, will reconsider the situation and act reasonably in this matter and that they will not cause unnecessary distress and suffering. I agree with the hon. Member who spoke earlier and who emphasised the point that we are causing unnecessary distress and suffering to-day because we are acting in a quite ridiculous manner, in putting so many people indiscriminately into concentration and internment camps, and that the good name and the magnificent tradition of this country of acting reasonably towards refugees who come to this country shall in no way be tarnished, but that in this hour of difficulty and crisis that reputation shall remain as bright as it ever was and that we act with reason, commonsense and humanity.
I think that the ordinary Members must be at a certain disadvantage in that the Government know exactly the facts which cannot very well be communicated to us, but there is one point which I should like to mention as briefly as I can, and that is the fact that various school children have been taken away from their studies to be interned, which seems to require a rather special explanation. I have in mind especially a girl who had been in this country, as I understand, since she was eight years old and who did not imagine that she was anything except British. She is now 17½ and, I understand, is being interned in the Isle of Man, unable to take examinations which she was exceedingly anxious to pass for the sake of her career.
I think that my hon. Friend cannot have been in the House, but the Under-Secretary for the Home Department explained how those cases had arisen, and he said that he was very anxious to deal with them as quickly as possible when the facts were brought to his notice. I can, therefore, give my hon. Friend the assurance on behalf of the Home Office that if he brings the facts to the notice of the Under-Secretary, he will deal with them immediately.
I am exceedingly grateful for that assurance. I must apologise to the House for raising that matter when I had not been here all the time. It will be a great pleasure to me to present the particulars of that case, and I am grateful to the Government for dealing with what, to me, seems a most obvious injustice. I do not think that any of us can doubt that security considerations must come first. The Army must have the first say in matters of this kind, because everything else is of comparative unimportance compared with the necessity of winning this war. This Debate will do a considerable amount of good if only in showing that, after all, differences on the subject are exceedingly unimportant.
Anybody who has had to deal with the Home Office will want to pay his tribute to the kind and sympathetic way in which the Home Secretary and his officials have dealt with this difficult problem. But that very sympathetic understanding which for a long period during the war seems to have been given to the treatment of refugees and aliens created a confidence which was suddenly shattered. There is a great number of people in this country who have taken an interest in the refugee problem and who at the present time are bewildered and horrified at the things which are happening, and the very confidence which has been created in the wisdom and methods employed by the Home Office has now been shaken. One wonders, as was mentioned by one speaker who followed the Under-Secretary, whether we really have had the full story of this change of policy of the Government. The explanation which has been given is that events in Holland and Belgium opened the eyes of the Government and the public to the possible danger. I wonder whether we have had the full story about Holland. We have had a great number of Press stories, and I wonder whether some of those journalists did not fall victims to the very propaganda which they were intended to counteract.
Following that very damaging broadcast by our Minister to Holland, I tried to make some inquiries from the Dutch themselves as to what had happened, and my information is not in accordance with the sort of thing which British journalists and others were saying had occurred. I do not pretend that I have full information at all, but I would like to ask the Under-Secretary for War what his information is, because apparently the experience there has very much changed the policy of the Government. My information was that the Dutch Nazi party were by far the most dangerous Fifth Columnists, and they, of course, had not been interned. If that was not the case, then I shall be glad to be told so. I asked a man who ought to know, whether refugees had played a part, and he said they had not but that certainly German residents living in Holland had played a large part, and what the Under-Secretary said to-night was an exceedingly interesting piece of information. The Dutch Government had no power to prevent Germans going into Holland; in fact, the Dutch Government were under treaty obligations to let the Germans in. That makes things entirely different. If the Home Office and the Government were anxious to prevent public opinion being panicked," why did we not have that information long ago? What has the Government done to try to correct the impression created by the stories which have appeared in the Press? I feel that the Home Office and the Government were very willing to accept newspaper propaganda and a public atmosphere of nervousness, as an excuse for carrying out a policy which they thought would not be altogether popular with the whole country. What action did the Government take—I ask the question again—to correct the wild stories about Fifth Column activity?
I was also told, when I made inquiries, that one of the chief activities of the Fifth Column was spreading false rumours in Holland and undermining the confidence of the Dutch people in their own generals, business leaders and so on. I have been interested when speaking to British refugees from Holland to find that the British refugees believed that certain Dutchmen were traitors and Fifth Columnists, when in fact they were nothing of the sort. Very successfully indeed, the Dutch Fifth Column created that atmosphere of doubt and suspicion which is very helpful to Hitler. I believe that in creating an atmosphere in England that all Germans are suspect, Hitler has again succeeded in winning a propaganda victory over this country. I am certain that the one thing Hitler wants to establish, as far as national consciousness in this war is concerned, is that it is a war of all Germans against the British. If he can establish that, he gets unity in his own country. If he can tell his people, as he has, that the British have interned Rudolf Olden, the editor of the "Berliner Tageblatt," then again he has scored a victory over the British War Office.
I am certain that the individual cases of hardship and injustice and mismanagement and stupidity which have been created by the administration of these Regulations, has done us great harm in the eyes of some Americans. We all recognise that security is vital, and that it is vital to get the right people interned. I believe that the matter goes deeper than just a few mistakes in administration and a certain number of cases which seem unjust. What has happened suggests that the Government's idea is, to a large extent, that no Germans can be trusted. If not, I do not understand the rigidity of some of these Regulations. I do not give this case as one of special hardship, but just as an example of the rigidity which creates grave injustices. A German, partly Jewish, whom I know was living on the West Coast and working on the East Coast. On the Monday morning when the Regulations came out he went to the local police station and asked whether it was safe for him to go to the East Coast. He went to the East Coast, after having been directed to go there by the local chief of the police. As soon as he arrived, he reported to the police there; and they interned him. Had he remained on the West Coast, as it happened, he would not have been interned until later.
The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) has given some cases of special hardship. I am not sure that the exceptions about which the Under-Secretary told us amount to much, or that they will leave out those people in whom we have real confidence that they are as anti-Nazi as we are. I felt a little bitter when he said that the parents of aliens who are in the fighting Services were to be left at liberty, because, while I am not quite clear about the position, I think it is a fact that it has been very difficult for any alien to get into the fighting service. Every obstacle has been put in the way. If the regulation were to say that any alien who had volunteered for the fighting forces would be left at liberty, and that his parents would be left at liberty, that would be a different thing. I agree that that would not be practicable, but why could not the fighting services take certain aliens of German or Austrian origin, or some others—Spaniards, for instance? Many of these people would have been delighted to fight for this country. I have yet to hear of any who have been allowed to do so. It is maddening, when these people are so anxious to fight for democracy and freedom, to find that the War Office and the other Service Departments have no intention of allowing them to fight. The Czechs are allowed to fight. Why are not the other aliens allowed to do so?
Not Germans and Austrians. I thought the hon. Member was speaking of other aliens. He said "aliens" in a sweeping manner. Germans and Austrians are not accepted.
I am afraid that is the case, and I much regret it. There are Frenchmen who were evacuated from Dunkirk who are also in prison, and the circumstances at the moment are extremely difficult. I do not want to go into details, but the circumstances are very peculiar and very difficult. To give a few cases like that, is not to make a general argument for the enlistment of foreigners in the British Army. What we are trying to do is to secure the help and assistance in this war of everybody who wants to help. That is the War Office point of view.
I am very glad that the hon. Member has mentioned the International Brigade. I was not thinking of them at all. I understand that there are certain difficulties there. I had not them in mind at all, however, but the friendly aliens. The hon. Gentleman says that the policy of the War Office is that foreigners who happen to be in this country, should be able to make their contribution to the war effort. That brings me to what I feel to be the very heart of this problem, namely, the widespread feeling of foreigners in this country that they are not wanted, that they are here on sufferance and are regarded as a nuisance, that it is regretted that they ever came, and that it is only by good will that they are allowed to be at liberty at all. There may be reasons why Spaniards from France are now in gaol along with Frenchmen, but that would not matter so much if it did not come after a long period during which other Spaniards have been continuously snubbed. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there are Spaniards in this country who are not Communists, who are good-living men and who have volunteered for the fighting services and have not been accepted. They wonder why it should be so. I will give another example, again, that of a Spaniard.
I want to make clear what I have in my own mind. We have serving in this country at the present moment, under their own colours, so to speak, French, Dutch, Norwegians and Belgians, and we shall be very glad of the help of any other country prepared to organise their own people. The hon. Gentleman appears to be asking that foreigners should be enlisted in the British Army. Is that what he is asking?
If you cannot do it on a large scale, then the right thing would be to have a foreign legion. It is not for a civilian to suggest how this can be done. I am trying to tell the UnderSecretary—and I think that it is something that he ought to know—that the policy of the British Government is creating in the minds of aliens of more than one nationality in this country, a feeling that they are not wanted. Take the attitude of another Department—the Ministry of Labour. Up to the war when there was unemployment, every difficulty was placed in the way of aliens no doubt to protect British labour. Probably safeguards were required, but aliens wondered when we would be so organised that men with skill, energy and anxiety to help could be allowed to take their hands out of their pockets and do some work. What have the Government done that is constructive, to find work for these people? What are they doing now? The Czechs were organised for forestry work, but I understand that a good many of them have now been interned. That seems to be a shortsighted policy. As seen by an alien, all Government regulations are framed to prevent him finding work, from getting into the Army or even from going abroad. I know aliens who would do risky jobs as merchant seamen, but who have been told by chief constables that they could not allow them even to go to a port to get a boat. Everything, as aliens see it, is negligible. There is no foreign legion as in France and, added to that, you have a wholesale policy of internment of noted anti-Fascists, people with world-wide reputations. I tell the Government that there are many English people who cannot help wondering whether the view of aliens—that this is a purely nationalist war of Great Britain against Germany—is beginning to prevail in the British Government.
I turn to a detailed point about conditions in internment camps. Since the Debate started, telegrams have been handed to me by another Member of this House and I will read part of one on behalf of elected representatives of several thousand internees in an alien internment camp at Huyton. It says:
I submit an urgent plea for an immediate visit by your Committee.
This was sent to the secretary of the Parliamentary Refugee Committee, of which I am not a member. I would point out that an elected representative of the internees sent this telegram and I ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether it would be possible for him to arrange for such an organisation as the Parliamentary Refugee Committee to have facilities to visit these camps—
The telegram came to me this afternoon. I forgot to read it and I asked my hon. Friend to do so. It was sent to me as secretary of the Parliamentary Committee for Refugees from a group of 2,000 refugees at Huyton. After all, refugees are still allowed to have some communication with the outside world and this is not the first communication I have had. I do not quite understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by saying—
Evidently it was worth while to read that telegram because now we have elicited what the secretary of the Refugee Committee did not know and what no one but the Under-Secretary knew, that there are facilities for us to visit these camps. There are rumours about the condition of the camps. I have been told that in a women's camp in the Isle of Man there are several unsatisfactory features. I think it would be a very good thing if Members of Parliament who are interested in this problem could have an opportunity of verifying the conditions for themselves. I do not know whether it is worth while going into the details of which I have been informed. Probably, on the whole, it is better not to do so. I would return again to the general question, whether the Government policy towards refugees and other foreigners could not be a little more constructive and a little less negative.
One reads in the Press that the Nazis can import so many tens of thousands of Belgians into Germany to assist their war effort. It seems odd that we cannot even use those foreigners in this country who are really anxious to be used. I should like the War Office to find whatever is the right form for mobilising all these men into fighting corps so that, unless they are interned because they are dangerous, they should be expected to have the same duty of fighting as British subjects. I think that would be a fair and proper thing and something which they themselves would understand. For those who cannot fight, I would ask whether the Government cannot take some active steps through the Ministry of Labour, to make use not only of those who have great technical qualifications but of the ordinary rank and file. I should say that simple, straightforward, manual labour on the land, in forestry or in any other way, would be better than the unemployment from which so many of them have suffered so long. I do not mind how it is done but they ought to be utilised. Whether they are skilled or unskilled, they ought to be working, if not fighting, and I ask the Government to try to frame their policy in future, not on the purely negative basis of interning people on suspicion but to adopt the very much more constructive policy of using them to the best advantage in the cause for which we are fighting.
Now that the Debate has gone on for so long, I suppose there is little new that can be said, but there are one or two points I would like to make. Everyone who has any interest in this question will be very grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for one aspect of his speech, and that is the very great care with which he refrained from any kind of patronage in his approach to the question. It seems to me that at the basis of our policy in these matters lies our mental attitude towards the people concerned. I have noticed a slightly patronising air, a semi-genial tolerance, running through some of the speeches even of those who have spoken so generously on behalf of these people. In the state to which the world has been reduced in recent years, it appears to me that the status of a refugee is that of belonging to a highly honourable profession. We are not dealing with the sort of people who in former times fled from one country to another for reasons that could not be readily ascertained. We are dealing with people who, by being refugees, are paying the penalty for having fought the fight which we are now fighting long years before we ourselves took up this struggle. There can be no manner of doubt about that.
I think it is a complete mistake to suppose that in the war that is now being waged one can align the forces on one side or the other according to the political and historical frontiers between one country and another. I am afraid that in the Government, as it is now constituted, the only Department which still does regard it in that way is the War Office. I rather gather that, although the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department took complete responsibility for the change of policy, he did so with reluctance, and that if he could have been allowed, as I quite understand he could not be allowed, to indicate his personal opinions rather than defend, as a Member of the Government, the policy of that Government, his speech might have been very different. The hon. Gentleman explained to us very carefully that there had been, time after time, both before the people came into this country and afterwards, the most careful sifting of their antecedents and their associations, and that those classifications of refugees, far from being haphazard, were the result of a careful testing of the evidence, and that no one was placed in the Class C category except on evidence as conclusive as one can hope to get in any human affair; but he said that, although we had satisfied ourselves after the most thorough examination that there was no security problem involved in the case of the Class C refugees being at liberty, we departed from that policy for two reasons. The first reason which he gave was popular clamour, and the second reason was pressure from the War Office. I want to examine those two reasons separately, because it seems to me that, although they were the only points advanced by the Under-Secretary in defence of the change of policy, they do not justify the change.
Where has the Department obtained evidence of any popular clamour? I do not read the "Daily Mail," and possibly I was not aware of the popular clamour. I go about the country among most, if not all, of the classes of our population, as much as any Member of this House, and I think it is a defamation of the ordinary working people, and other people in this country, to say that they lent themselves to any such popular clamour, or that in the case of heavy air-raids they would have turned their indignation wildly and indiscriminately against the aliens in their areas. I do not know why the Joint Under-Secretary finds this so amusing. If he were a refugee himself, he would not find it so. I think it is a libel on the people of this country to say that they were so unbalanced and unjust as to visit on these people, these refugees from the things against which we ourselves are now fighting, any indignation they might have felt, and justly felt, in the case of heavy air-raids or bombing attacks on the civilian population. If there was a clamour, it was not from the people of this country, but from a handful of journalists who like every opportunity of working up any kind of sensation. It really is a pity that the Home Office, who were handling this problem so carefully and generously, should have allowed themselves to be deflected for no better reason than popular clamour, the evidence of which, in my view, was sadly lacking.
Another reason was that the War Office pressed them to do it. I can thoroughly sympathise with the Under-Secretary when he said it was very difficult to resist pressure of that kind from the War Office in these circumstances. But the circumstances ought to have been examined. The War Office would be entitled to make their case, and to go to the Home Office and say that the policy they were pursuing with regard to aliens was embarrassing and causing the War Office difficulty. But no one has yet made out a case. On what grounds did the War Office persuade the Home Office, or the Government, that it was necessary, in the interest of national security, to intern large numbers of people about whom the War Office, ex hypothesi, knew nothing, and about whom the Home Office knew everything? I think it is important to know whether the Home Office was able to say to the War Office, "We know all these people. We know that they are safe. We know there is no shadow of suspicion in regard to them. Why do you think in these circumstances it is a matter of national security that they should be interned?"
A case was given to me this afternon of a man now aged 53. He was brought to this country at the age of 13 and has lived here for 40 years. I should not have thought that, as a matter of law, he was an enemy alien at all, because he was born in a place which at the time of his birth was part of the then Austria, but which as a result of the Peace Treaties of 1918 became a part of Poland. It would seem, therefore, that he was either a Polish citizen or a person of no nationality, certainly not an Austrian or an enemy alien. In any case, he is a man without any associations with any enemy country. He was interned and is still interned. On what principle of national security is he still detained? What purpose is served by it? We can all see the harm which is done by it. What good is done by it? The whole manner of approach in the War Office—not of the Home Office—has been wrong, and I suppose that no one will greatly complain if I say that the previous record of the War Office in this war is not such as to enable us to repose great confidence in it when its decisions differ from those of other Departments and other people.
An hon. Member objected to this policy being described as a policy of panic. If, however, we find that people with no hostile associations of any kind, who have demonstrated time after time their unity with the objects and ideals for which we are fighting, are indiscriminately interned, and if no reason which anyone can understand is advanced for the internment or the continuance of it, it is not unfair to describe such a policy as a policy of panic. People do unjust and cruel things when they are afraid. That may be the explanation and the defence, but I hope that one result of this Debate will be to convince the Government that this matter has now become a first-rate political issue, and not merely from the point of view of internal politics. Our main hope of bringing this war to a successful issue depends on convincing those countries which are still neutral that we realise that this is a war of ideas and that we are fighting for the right idea. It depends also, if that is the right view of the matter, on winning and retaining support for our cause inside the enemy countries themselves, some portions of whose population, though what proportion no one can know, are as much anti-Nazi as we are.
The policy of indiscriminate internment has not saved France from collapse. No Allied country was more strenuous in its insistence on putting under restraint people about whom there could be any shadow of suspicion. I recall the case, which I could not discuss in this House in one form, but which I can perhaps use by way of illustration, of a man who had spent a lifetime writing books exposing Nazi methods. He had fled from Austria for that reason. He had fought in the International Brigade in Spain. He was interned in France, although his work was at the very moment of internment being used as an engine of propaganda by this country in this country and in the United States of America. It is true that, unless this country is being treated very differently from every other country in Europe, some of the people who come in as refugees are not refugees and would rightly be suspected. That is true; but let it not be forgotten that Quisling was not a German subject but a Norwegian. And let it not be forgotten also that unless the position in this country is different from that in every other country, there may be people of British nationality who are far more dangerous to our cause than many of those who are now interned.
I do not at all forget that. All I say is that if you interned British subjects on the same principles as you interned the Class C refugees, you would have far more British subjects interned than you have at the moment, and have a great many people interned who ought not to be interned. The hon. Gentleman indicates dissent, and I do not want to prolong the argument, but surely it must be so, because in the case of the Class C aliens there has been the most thorough investigation and the Home Office have declared in this Debate that they are completely satisfied about their good faith and their friendliness, and yet they are interned, because among them there may be some cases in which the Home Office, in spite of their investigations, have made mistakes.
I appeal to the Under-Secretary even now to review the whole of this policy. We can test the genuineness of a refugee's professions of good faith by offering him work on our side and for our purposes—work in a foreign legion or other work. If he refuses it, there may be reasons for continuing the restraint, but we ought to give him the opportunity. There is ground for a complete review, now that the popular clamour which confessedly drove the Under-Secretary to the course he has adopted to-day, no longer exists. The hon. Gentleman was not present when I began, and so I wish once more to express my own appreciation of the spirit in which he approached the problem in his speech to-day, and to express the firm hope that that spirit be translated into the policy which his Department pursues.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat would have described the present policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to aliens as one of panic if he had had any practical experience at all of what the refugee problem has lately meant to the fall of France, and of the manner in which it embarrassed the movement of the French Army and, indeed, of our own British Expeditionary Force. As a soldier, I must honestly say that this problem, in relation to the defence of Great Britain and the battle for Britain which may take place in the near future, must be essentially a military problem, and that the Home Office have no option but to seek and to obey the advice tendered to them by the military advisers of His Majesty's Government. There are, of course, certain exceptional cases which can be usefully reviewed by the authorities, but, on general principles, while we have a great deal of very sincere sympathy with certain sections of aliens who, through the fortunes of war, are interned, that should not deflect us in any way from the main principle of national security.
At the same time, I feel that there is a section of friendly aliens which the War Office could well use at the present time. The War Office have made certain experiments in the past. Since the war was declared, they have authorised the recruitment of what were known as alien companies of Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. All those aliens were in C category, and, before they were allowed to enlist in the Corps, had their cases closely examined, as I understand it, by M.I.5. M.I.5 having satisfied itself, as far as it reasonably could, that, from the political point of view, men who desired to enlist had a record which justified trust, allowed them to enlist. Although those men were allowed to enlist in the A.M.P.C., the Army Council declared at that time, in their wisdom, that the men should not be armed and should be employed exclusively on labour work with the British Expeditionary Force, at bases far removed from actual operations.
It happened not many weeks ago that I had the honour to command a force of some 6,000 men, known as the Havre Defence Brigade, and I had in the force two such companies, each 281 strong, roughly 600 men. When we were ordered to take up a position in the line these men were not armed. They were composed largely of professional men. I think actually 33 per cent. were ex-German and Austrian officers, or had served either in the German or Austrian Army. The rest were of the professional class, doctors, philosophers and lawyers, and there was a certain percentage of technical and experienced artisans. We were very hard up for men at the time, and I decided, on my own responsibility, to arm those men 100 per cent. on the spot. I issued them with 50 rounds of ammunition per man. I am pleased indeed to say that they conducted themselves in a manner worthy of the best traditions of the British Army. Within a few hours, and certainly in less than two days, not only did they learn to load their rifles and handle them, but they were manning machine-guns and antitank rifles at the side of a road and at points, and were prepared to meet and to deal with any armoured vehicle column that came along in their vicinity.
I heard the other day when I came back that these two companies, which incidentally were withdrawn from this command before the force was evacuated, were returned to the United Kingdom because of their alien character, were again disarmed and put into a particular category, not exactly dissimilar from British companies of the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps. I feel that if the War Office took steps to consult the General Officers Commanding and the other officers who were responsible for these companies wherever they were employed, they would find sufficient evidence to justify a continuance of faith in those particular men, and would alter their decision not to allow any further aliens to enlist in the British Army. The conduct of these men in action might largely depend on the character of the British officers who are officering their particular units, and the War Office must take particular care in choosing the right officer for this particular job.
The other day I had a conversation with a gentleman who had had practical experience in the Spanish war, an experience which I am happy to say he is now placing at the disposal of the authorities of this country. He had occasion, I believe, to go down to Avonmouth to settle a dispute which had taken place between a number of Spaniards comprising a company of a French foreign legion, who wished to stay in this country and fight on the side of Great Britain, and who were being placed in a difficult position because of the attitude of their French officers. In conversations, accompanied as he was by a Spanish-speaking officer from the War Office, he satisfied himself that if those Spaniards had been allowed to enlist in a British foreign legion or in an alien company of the Pioneers, and officered as they wished to be officered, by experienced British officers who had served in France, they would be prepared to render further valuable services to our cause.
In conclusion, I want earnestly to ask the Under-Secretary to persuade the War Office to look into this question again. We have in this country many units, some large and some small, composed of aliens; we have Poles, Czechs, Spaniards, Germans and Austrians who have already enlisted as British soldiers in the British Army. I feel that that force could be organised into one single body as a foreign legion, reinforced by friendly aliens in this country, who have been subject to careful examination by M.I.5, and encouragement could thus be given to these people, who, although their national flag has been lowered in their own country, are prepared to come in on our side and continue to fight for victory.
I am sure the whole House has appreciated the very weighty contribution by the last speaker, and I only trust that the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretaries will at least consider very carefully the aspect of this problem to which the last speaker has drawn attention. On the other hand, I would say that although, of course, under these very difficult and dangerous circumstances we must accept the advice of the military experts of our country, it surely by no means follows that we should therefore listen to everything they say without offering any criticism ourselves. After all, we are governed by Parliament and not by the Army, and although I do not intend any reflection on the significance of the Army at the present time, I would, nevertheless, in all humility, suggest there are some matters in which the Army is not perhaps as well qualified to offer advice as in regard to other matters. I suggest that the question of refugees is one of them.
I am glad that reference was made to the tension that the Home Office felt coming from two different sides, which they had to try to resolve in the end by producing some kind of equilibrium. That is interesting, as revealing that, quite apart from principle, we have sometimes to tread the path of expediency. But I regret at that time the Home Office did not appreciate the position. It is true that at a time of difficulty and apprehension moods of panic are generated, but it does not follow one should give way to such moods. Some people, when the mood of panic is on them, assume the only thing to do is to splutter out hatred, to become more insensitive and more inhumane. I am not sure that there were not in this House one or two who gave way to panic in that fashion. I am glad that now an attempt is being made to counter-balance that mood of panic. When it was suggested that although the majority of these refugees from Nazi oppression might be entirely innocent, nevertheless there might be one or two suspicious characters, and, therefore, all must be rounded up—ugly and sinister phrase—so as to be sure that all dangerous persons were under lock and key, I could not help feeling if that principle were applied to this House, some hon. Members would be no longer present, because if one were to search all the past utterances of some Members of this House, and their eulogies of Herr Hitler, one might assume from the evidence that those Members would be better under lock and key.
There is now overwhelming evidence that the refugees who had not been interned were for the most part men and women whose whole life histories have been a protest against despotism and, in recent years, against Nazism in particular. It is not a good advertisement for our cause that at this time we should be putting into internment those who cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be classed as enemies of the real principles for which this country is fighting. Reference has been made to one or two well-known authors. Others besides these are in internment camps without any justification. One thinks of Socialist ex-members of the Austrian Parliament. When I interjected during the Under-Secretary's speech I was not being entirely irrelevant. There are at the present time Socialist ex-members of the Austrian Parliament, including one at least who has been in a concentration camp, and has been harshly treated; who has shown not only his keen detestation of Nazism, but his keen desire to help this country; who now, at the age of 60, is in an internment camp, and, indeed, looks like languishing there until the end of the war. So deep is his detestation of Nazism that I am certain even if he were kept in prison in this country for the rest of his days, he would not shift his opinion, but it must be a melancholy thing for him to reflect that, having endured far greater hardship than most people here have endured, he should now be treated in this sorry fashion.
I suggest that if, for instance, Pastor Niemoller, who is still in a concentration camp in Germany, were in this country, he, according to the showing of some hon. Members, would also have to be interned. That reduces the whole matter to tragic nonsense. Much has been said which has already convinced the Home Office and the War Office that something must be done in order to introduce regularity and similarity of interpretation and a greater amount of wisdom and sensitiveness in the treatment of these unfortunate people. I mentioned that particular Austrian ex-Member of Parliament because he is typical of many, and I urge upon the House and upon the two Departments particularly concerned that they should recognise from the standpoint of national economy it is wasteful to have thousands of these people put into internment camps, where they have to be kept out of public funds, whereas if we were only wise and had more foresight, they would be outside contributing to the national effort, either in the Army or on the land or engaged in propaganda or in some other form of service.
I ask most earnestly that the military mind which originally said, "All must be interned" should at least in this respect be counter-balanced by the civil mind, which perhaps has something to teach the military mind in this particular case. Surely, too, in the case of those who are interned now, a little more might be done in order to make their position amenable, habitable and tolerable. I do not understand, for instance, why newspapers were not allowed to circulate among these admitted sympathisers of Britain who were suddenly interned. I should have thought that with careful scrutiny some of the popular newspapers might be circulated, for without some news from the outside world many of these internees are bound to be susceptible to rumour, which in turn is bound to become demoralising, and fresh and untold misery will be imposed upon them. I believe that a news bulletin is now allowed. Why not go a stage further and allow these internees to be looked upon as human beings similar to those who are outside who are not only anxious to receive news but are entitled to receive it? From my own experience I am positive that, even if second, third, fourth and fifth tribunals were to examine the antecedents, history and records, and associations of 99 per cent. of the internees recently interned, it would be found again and again that they are stalwart supporters of democracy and entirely sympathetic to the British cause, that they are intensely hostile to Nazism, and could certainly be trusted, whether inside the camp or outside the camp, to bear due witness to democracy far more earnestly than many of their critics both inside and outside this House. I hope that after this Debate we shall find a more generous treatment of internees. I am sure that the War Office and the House desire that more generous and wise treatment should he given in this respect, and I hope that it will be put into effect.
I have listened to a good part of this Debate but not quite all of it. To the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) I cannot take very great exception, because he put his case in a very moderate way, and I confess that I quite agreed with him. I entirely agreed with his closing sentences that, in the case of all these refugees and foreign subjects, the greatest degree of comfort and good feeling should be afforded to them, but on the general thesis of whether the majority or all the aliens in this country should or should not be shut up, I cannot agree with his speech nor with hon. Members who preceded him. Frankly, I took up the view—it was not because of panic, because I believed in it at the beginning of the war—that all enemy aliens should at once be interned in concentration camps from the moment war broke out. In a short space of time I will say why. We had, when the war broke out, some 60,000 enemy aliens in this country. We have in this House of Commons 615 Members of Parliament, one of whom, for reasons which are not yet quite apparent, is now in prison, so that approximately one six-hundredth part of the Members of the House of Commons is suspect by the Government. If you take the same proportion, one out of 600—and this is a favourable estimate indeed—then it is clear that 100 enemy aliens who were at large at the outbreak of war were dangerous people. If there were 100 persons abroad in this country, able to do what they liked, you might come up against a very serious situation indeed. I know that the various security services marked down and interned what they hoped was a full proportion of enemy aliens at the outbreak of war, but how did they know that was the case? Hon. Members have read letters from Italians and others to-night, and they have told us how Socialist members of the German Parliament have been persecuted. But how easy it is to raise a case if Germans, wishing to get into this country before the war as spies, appeared as martyrs in their own country and obtained a great deal of favourable comment from people in this country, especially those with great reputations, as haters of Nazis, even the German people, and were left free to engage in all kinds of malpractices which might endanger the safety of the State. Is not that extraordinarily easy?
Everybody who has followed the German methods during the last few years knows it is perfectly easy and has no doubt been done on many occasions. The disaster which befell Norway and the worse disasters which befell Belgium and Holland were due to a considerable extent to what are popularly known as Fifth Columnists but what the Lord Privy Seal referred to the other day by using the good old fashioned word "traitors." It is very easy to under-estimate the effect that these people have. It has been mentioned to-night that there were some 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 aliens in France when war broke out. Are we quite certain that many of them did not cause the downfall of the French nation and the French Republic? An hon. Member has referred to Marshal Petain, but the marshal is really the figurehead who retreated. The whole position was cut from under his feet long before he came in.
In an earlier part of this Debate some speeches were really astounding. Members seem to take the line that in general aliens were excellent people and were all perfectly good and loyal supporters in the fight against Nazism, whereas British subjects in general were more or less suspect. I believe British subjects are perfectly loyal and that with a few exceptions all will attempt to fight the war to a finish. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) suggested that it was very unkind to intern these persons and that we were risking forfeiting the good name of Britain. Some people talk as if there was no war on at all. They entirely forget the atrocities committed by the Germans. All we are asking these aliens to do is to sacrifice, for the duration of the war, personal liberty and a certain amount of personal comfort in order to help to bring about that which they profess to desire, that is, the downfall of the Nazi system. Surely it is not asking very much. Therefore it seems to me that this House, far from being imbued by panic, as it was suggested that it was only a few weeks ago in requiring the internment of the vast proportion of enemy aliens, was taking a perfectly sensible point of view.
A Member of Parliament may receive a letter from a German or an Austrian whom he may have known, saying, "I am in the most desperate straits. I have to leave Germany. I wish to come into this country. You know I am all right; please get me in and look after me when I have got in?" Is it not easy for an ingenious Dr. Goebbels or someone like that to organise that particular ramp? That was done in the case of Norway and Belgium, and I am not at all sure it was not done in the case of France. It was not very difficult some months before the war broke out to get into this country unknown numbers of people vouched for, it may be, by Members of Parliament acting in all good faith, or by distinguished persons who thought they were perfectly all right, with the sole object of doing as much damage as they could. Up to date we have gone on very happily so far as internal security is concerned, but I am convinced that, if the Germans decide to invade this country, they will send over men by aeroplanes and submarines, and the Fifth Column, the traitors, will act at the same time. Who knows for certain who is a traitor and who is not? I believe the security services are very good. I do not know, but I hope so. Nevertheless, it is not too difficult, by a carefully organised campaign, as was done in Belgium with gigantic success, to get these people into the country under the guise of being very anti-Nazi, and possibly anti-German, so that they could strike at the right moment.
It is all very well to talk about panic, but I would accuse hon. Members who have taken the other point of view of absolute complacency, in view of what has happened in other countries during the last few months. In the Secret Session, I quoted an instance, which obviously I will not repeat, of what happened in Belgium. That was merely one extreme case of what was happening all the time in that country. There was an infiltration of Germans in various capacities, and when the German army crossed the frontier those people acted. I believe that such a thing is not likely to happen to anything like the same degree in this country, but there is a risk nevertheless; and I do not believe that the Government and the House have the right, acting as they do for the people of this country, to take any risks of that nature in time of war, if they can possibly be avoided. Therefore, it seems to me that the internment should be in accordance with the capacity of the country to arrange facilities for such internment. I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans). The men in the Pioneer battalions of which he spoke had been carefully vetted before they were allowed to join. What I advocate is that these people should be shut up, but then, after they have been carefully examined, let loose. One would then feel that one was on safer ground. I have detained the house for longer than I had intended, but I feel very strongly about this matter. I am terrified of the appalling complacency which seems to be enjoyed by some hon. Members, and I do not think we can possibly be too careful.
This has been a characteristic House of Commons Debate. Running through the whole Debate there has been expressed on all sides deep regret with regard to the necessity for the internment of these enemy aliens. Perhaps I ought to say the necessity as evidenced by the Home Office and the War Office, for there are, I admit, some hon. Members who think this should not have been done. I want to take my stand on this point. All hon. Members will agree that, whatever happens, the security of the country must not be endangered. In these grave and critical times, we cannot afford to take any modicum of risk. Having accepted that, we must ask ourselves whether we have attained all the security we desire and whether, in pursuance of this policy, we are endangering the freedom of people who have come to this country because they have been denied freedom elsewhere. I submit that that is important. One hon. Member said that this Debate might be fine reading to the Germans. I believe that, wherever the Debate may be read, and whatever divergence of opinion there may be on the rights and wrongs of the internment, there will be discerned throughout all the speeches of hon. Members a regret that necessity has forced us to take such an action and a desire to mitigate it as much as possible.
Those who have been interned and those who may be waiting to be interned at the present time are very conscious of the kind and friendly treatment they have received in this country. Like other hon. Members, I have had numbers of cases of German refugees seeking freedom from internment who appreciate the hospitality of this country. A German who has been in this country for a number of years, and who I have every reason to believe is absolutely sincere in his antagonism to Nazism, said to me only last Friday, "Of course, I am sorry to be interned, but I am quite prepared to go if, when I get inside, there will be afforded to me the opportunity of proving that I want to serve your country." In passing, I should like to express my appreciation for the courtesy, kindliness and considerate treatment which I have received from the Under-Secretary, if I may say so without embarrassing him. He has considered many cases that I have submitted to him with deep sympathy and great understanding and with a great desire, if possible, to give the benefit of the doubt to the individual concerned. In his speech to-night the Under- Secretary demonstrated a very broad, sympathetic attitude to this very grave and difficult problem.
I want to ask, whoever is to reply, if what the Under-Secretary said in the course of his speech, with regard to certain exemptions to enemy aliens, can be further elaborated. One was pleased to note these exemptions. I desire to ask what is the method to be adopted by those people who have already been interned in order to enable them to take advantage of the exemptions and secure release. Will it be for them to make personal applications or for their friends outside? It would be advantageous to know the procedure to be followed. If that information could be conveyed to those who are now in internment camps, it would be a source of great relief and joy for them to know that provided they were prepared and willing to play the game by this country and against Nazi-ism, they would have an opportunity of obtaining release. The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) stressed the need for interning these people because of the gravity of the situation, and the risks which may be occasioned. To my mind, it is a tragedy that in these days, when we need every ounce of effort from every man and woman in order to resist the invader who may attack these shores, we keep interned men and women who are ready and willing to serve this country and the cause for which we are fighting. We are turning a potential asset into a burden and a liability in not using all who might be of assistance to us. I do hope that the procedure for the release of those who can demonstrate their honesty of intention, desire and purpose will be speeded up, so that at the earliest moment they may have an opportunity of serving this country. I hope that some of those who have not been interned will also be given the same opportunity.
It will, I hope, be made possible for hon. Members of this House to visit these camps to see for themselves exactly how they are conducted. It would be admirable if the internees could feel that they were being considered by the House of Commons, which, to them is the great pillar of democracy in Europe. I hope that the greatest of care will be exercised in seeing that non-Fascists are not put into the same camps as Fascist sympathisers, otherwise there would probably be disputes and disturbances in the camp, and the non-Fascists would be blamed for anything that happened. In the camps where there are men in C category whom we had no reason to suspect of any ulterior designs against this country, I hope it will be possible to give some degree of self-government So that they can elect a committee from among themselves. They could present complaints to the Governor, and he would find it a great advantage to have such an advisory body. There is great sadness of heart among these people who have been in this country for many years. We want to lighten their burdens. They have looked to this country to give them freedom. We want to give them a feeling and the knowledge that the action we have taken has been with the purpose of trying to make more secure our objective, namely, to win the war; in other words, that we are trying to safeguard them as well as the country. At all costs we must not endanger the security of our homeland. Wherever possible let us utilise the services of all opponents of Nazism so that they can join with us in the common cause against the common enemy.
In listening to this Debate my mind took me back to a Sunday night on Liverpool landing stage when the "Arandora Star," with a crew of British soldiers on board, was getting ready to set sail with refugees. I have heard tonight much commiseration with alien refugees, but I have heard very little about the danger to our own country and the protection that is necessary for our own people. What sympathy has been extended to the refugee boat by the country which torpedoed it? If that country can do this to its own people, why should we waste time with the problem of aliens instead of dealing with the protection of our own land? In my home to-day we are suffering from the fact that two members of the family have had to go away again. In the last war three sons and three brothers went away. The question which is troubling the minds of our people and making them panicky is whether the Government are taking enough precautions to see that proper protection is extended to the people of this country, and whether the lesson of Europe is lost upon the Government.
Looking abroad at the Maginot and Siegfried lines, one thought that these strongholds would be a great protection, but they have proved to be rotten. I remember in my days at an elementary school being taught:
To thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I am beginning to think that the strong arm of Britain and the loyalty of our sons here and abroad are the only things we can count as solid. Moral values are of little account. Why should we trouble if one or two, or a thousand, suspects are interned if this land of ours is safe? We have had no knowledge of an invasion in our day. Only the history books record a conqueror coming here. But we know out men who returned from Dunkirk, and we know of the wonderful work of our airmen. That ought to teach the House the value of courage and teach it to be self-confident and to look after No. I first, giving protection to those who come to our shores only when we know they deserve it. Internment camps can be carried on very judiciously, but if there is one rotten apple in the box, all the rest of the apples may go bad. If they are rolling about, they will be like a lot of people—losing their sense of equilibrium by not knowing what they are talking about.
What I am concerned about is that no injustice should be done to an alien; but we had better be careful in our choice of words. It is going a long way back, but I think it was Marcus Aurelius who said, "Let us be true in our definitions," and so do not let us talk about enemy aliens but about enemies. To-day it is very hard to know who is your friend and who is your enemy. When we have a trusty friend, we should stick to him. If the British Government are erring on the side of being too careful, do not let us growl. It will he the first time that I have ever seen anybody on the Government side extra careful about anything at all. So I am not going to find fault to-day if, in the protection of this land, the Government show that they have learned the lessons of the past. We have in this country sentimentalists concerned about every country except their own, and always pleading for some poor creature in one part of the world or another; but I reckon that I, too, have something to complain of. I represent a particular section who, according to some people, are disloyal; but they are not.
There are people in my streets who were in the Dunkirk business. The streets in which I live are the poorest in Liverpool, but some of those streets were decorated with flags and festoons and "God Save the King"—a thing unknown in the Irish parts of Liverpool. Do not let us have so much sentimentality. I have heard of women without children talking about how to keep families together. We are having too much of that kind of sentimentality in this House. Let those who know something of the subject speak on it. When your sons are going out and your neighbours are going out, it is time to look into what the Government are doing. I hope the Government will be careful about the release of any individuals whom they have interned. But let them do the right and square thing by them. If the Government are afraid of a man, let them keep him in until they are sure of him. If he is not a danger and will be of any use to the nation, then when that has been verified he should be released. As I understood it, that is the policy which the Government said they were prepared to follow; and therefore I am prepared to have confidence that the Government, knowing there is a war on—something which a good many others have not yet realised—will understand that this country cannot afford to take risks in this matter. I hope the Government will be loyal to the country first and generous to their friends afterwards.
This refugee problem is one with which I have been familiar since 1921, when Dr. Nansen was invited by the Council of the League of Nations to deal with the problem of 1,000,000 Russians who were then scattered throughout Europe. I have always thought that, of all the stains on the honour of the Twentieth Century Europe, in which we live—and those stains are many—one of the blackest was the treatment by many nations of their refugees. As far as this country is concerned, I hope that our Debate to-night has done something to put matters right. It has been worthy of the House of Commons in every way. It was required, and it has been useful, and we are all very grateful for the attitude which the Home Secretary and the Home Office have always taken up with regard to this problem. We are grateful also for the tone of the Under-Secretary's speech, and for very much of its substance. Our criticism, if we make any, is that some of what he said comes too late and that we are afraid it will not be adequately administered.
Let me remove one or two points of prejudice, if I may so call them. For my part, I am not against a policy of internment of refugees at a moment when there is danger of invasion, and I know, as the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) said, that many refugees are not against internment, and that some of them welcomed it. A refugee who was in a leading position said that he rejoiced in the anti-foreign feeling which he found in the country, because he thought it meant that we were going to stand up to Hitler. I have tried to impress on these refugees, when they have come to see me and put their individual tragedies—as they do by the score—that it may well be true that, if they are interned, they will be far safer than if left at large. But, by the Government's own test, and all the principles which the Under-Secretary explained to-night, the thing has been carried too far, and it has not been administered aright.
Secondly, I would like to say a word about the conditions in the camps, with which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War is to deal. We recognise, of course, and I very fully recognise, the difficulties with which the Government have had to deal with the whole of the B.E.F. having been brought back from Dunkirk, when we have here the Norwegian Expeditionary Force, Norwegians, sailors from all over the world, Poles, Czechs, Dutchmen, Belgians and French, and suddenly, on top of that, the Government have to pull in a lot of refugees and put them into camps and give them good conditions. It was not possible, and many of the refugees recognised that it was not just, for them to be given better conditions than the soldiers who came from the Front were getting, and they have to put up with hardships. But we did not explain all that properly to the refugees. It is a great mistake for the Under-Secretary for the Home Office to come here and say to-night that the only complaint which he has had of the Isle of Man has been that conditions were too good. I could give him a lot of other complaints about the Isle of Man.
I am speaking of the women's camps, and I could give him a lot of examples where, in spite of the sunburn which results from bathing on the beach—and these people have nothing else to do, poor wretches—they have grievous complaints to make.
Thirdly, we should recognise that a lot of things have gone wrong in the administration of this problem. We know that the police are doing their best. The police are always very humane in the work they are called upon to do. But unfortunate things have been happening. In the arrests—that is what the refugees call them—there has been needless cruelty which could have been avoided. I read now from a letter I received only yesterday about a refugee—I will not give the name. It states:
Age, 53; refugee from Nazi oppression; "C" class; arrested in the streets of Leipzig during November pogrom; three months in Nazi concentration camp where he contracted diabetes. Now living on daily insulin. Only child in English sanatorium with chest disease; offer to serve Britain three times refused. Has this morning been detained by C.I.D. men for immediate internment as enemy alien. Fainted; carried away semiconscious. Here's to victory.
If it can be done, the detention of these men ought to be as little like arrest as possible. They have been taken away in Black Marias; they have to report to police stations. Why should not they be told to report there and be taken in other forms of transport? I want to urge, as did the noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), that there are other matters which have to be improved in the methods of this administration. We should arrange for the segregation of the Nazis from the non-Nazis; we should improve the conditions and the food; we should supply them with newspapers and books and not allow the public to look at them, as the Noble Lord said, as if they
were animals in a zoo behind their barbed-wire defences.
Perhaps I may put one more minor grievance to the Home Secretary. It is a fact that refugees are not allowed to go to public air-raid shelters, because of the risk that if they went into the open, they might signal to the German aircraft, and they may not even send their children there. This is a very grievous hardship to some of the women who are now refugees in our land. I end this part of what I want to say by begging the Home Secretary at least to explain more adequately to the refugees the reasons why we have had to apply this kind of treatment to them, that it is not simply anti-foreign feeling and that we are not putting them into camps so that we may more easily hand them over to Hitler when he comes, as the French have done. Let us remember that these people have in Holland, Belgium and France their friends and relatives who have now been returned to Nazi torture and are suffering at this moment perhaps as human beings have rarely suffered before.
As the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot said, this is a new problem. Here are something like 100,000 people in the country, deprived of their ordinary means of living and many of them destitute. Some of them, we know, are dangerous to this country and have been sent here by Hitler, but many of them are potentially extremely dangerous to Hitler, whether as soldiers, workers, scientists or propagandists. The labour, skill and knowledge of all of them who are not a danger to us could be used against Hitler, but it requires an immense task of organisation, and every single Department requires special knowledge and special organisation. It requires special handling for each category of refugees, You must have public funds. It is worth it, because it would serve our cause, and you must have an administrative machine. We believe that it is too big a job to be done by the Home Office and the War Office in their spare time, and there ought to be a special Department with a responsible Minister in charge and doing nothing else.
I wish to say one or two words about these problems and why I and many hon. Members think they have not yet been adequately dealt with. I will begin with the Fifth Column. Everybody agrees that the measures taken against the Germans and Austrians have been pretty drastic, but even the Home Secretary would not claim that there is yet perfection in dealing with the Fifth Column. I will give some red-hot examples from my experience of what I mean. Perhaps there is an explanation; if so, I hope it will be given. I have learned that in the B.B.C., which is, after all, our key-service if invasion should happen, and which it is important to protect against enemy infiltration, we employ something like 20 German translators. They are engaged on the immensely important work of enemy propaganda. Remember that it was Goebbels more than Goering who heat France. These men have been there for years. They have been trusted by each other, by the B.B.C., and by all who have known them—and I have had to know them a little, because I have had to do some broadcasting to the German people since the war began. Half-a-dozen of them have been sacked during the last month. That has utterly demoralised the rest. It is paralysing our enemy propaganda. Was there a good reason? If so, why were they allowed to stay there for nine months of war; and why, having been put on the streets, with their wives and families rendered penniless, were they not interned? They should either have been interned, or kept on to do the splendid work they were doing. There was another of this team of Germans who some time ago was discovered to be a Nazi storm trooper. He was dismissed, but he is still at large in London.
I do not know how many hon. Members are conscious of it, but I believe that there is a definite plot by Nazi agents to spread talk about defeatism among our people. Some of my friends tell me that defeatism is rampant in the City. I am not well acquainted with the City, but when I ask my friends in the City whether there is defeatism there, they tell me that there is not. Someone told me this morning that the working women of Hoxton want peace with Hitler. Those who know the working women of Hoxton tell me quite a different story. Some days ago someone told me that a Member of this House, who is known to be a devoted follower of the Lord President of the Council, was a member of the Fifth Column, and was working for a negotiated peace with Hitler. I know that Member very well, and I know that there is not a shadow of truth in that.
There is another story, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply was in favour of immediate peace with Hitler, because he held the view that, as the workers had no possessions, it did not matter whether they were under hitler or a British Government. These stories are not an accident. They are the result of a plot by Hitler's agents. The War Office and the Home Office have not been able to deal with that plot. The reason is that it is a very special job. It is not like catching criminals in London; you need a special study of Goebbels and his methods, and there are people who have made a special study of them.
I do not suggest going so far as that; she did it in all loyalty. But I suggest to the Home Secretary that that kind of story is very easily killed. All you have to do is to take it up through the Press and to put something over the B.B.C., and you can kill it. But I do not believe that that is being done. I hope that my ventilating it here will have that effect.
The other point to which I wish to refer has been dealt with by several hon. Members: I mean the question of finding work for the refugees. The hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans), in a very interesting speech, told us of his experience with people in the Army, who might, he thought, be brought into a foreign legion, and I hope that the Government will do that. Apart from the question of soldiers, we have been losing the work of hundreds of thousands of people whom we are keeping in idleness, which they hate and detest and which costs us a lot of money. It has been argued by other hon. Members that Hitler has been able to bring into his country hundreds of thousands of active enemies and that he has been able to make them work for him, although they are hostile to him. We have people here many of whom are highly skilled and many of whom have special qualifications. I remember that in the last war, a German Jew kept the German war effort going for two years longer than it would otherwise have lasted, by an invention which he made. We have brains of that same calibre in this country to-day and I fear we are not using them, as well as they might be used. I suggest in selecting these people, and organising the conditions of their work and placing them in special categories, special arrangements have to be made because they are aliens and refugees. There are special precautions that must be taken and so on. I do not think that that is a task, with this vast number of people, which really can be accomplished by the Home Office and the War Office in their spare time.
I conclude by saying that I agree with many hon. Members, and particularly with the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), that we cannot go on as we are going on now. The Home Office, with all the good will in the world, are not really getting results. We need a new Department with a responsible Minister at the head. I think this has a very broad political significance. The other day a friend of mine, a leader of German Socialists, said that he was quite sure that we were going to win because he saw so many Lords had been killed in France. He said, "If people of all classes are prepared to go out and die for liberty, I am sure the cause of liberty is not likely to be beaten." The Union Jack to-day is the flag of liberty. Let us rally to it with full enthusiasm all those who believe in liberty and use their services to promote that cause.
I have listened to the greater part of this Debate, and I am bound to say that I have never been more greatly struck by one of the great qualities of the House of Commons, and that is its power of detachment. There has been going on this afternoon, I suppose, one of the greatest air battles of the war. At this moment—I do not know whether it is so—bombers may be over many of our towns. To-night thousands of our forces will be on the alert waiting for an attack which may come in several places at dawn. That Army, after all, with the Navy and the Air Force, stands between this country and destruction and between all that this House of Commons represents and destruction, and yet we have been discussing this afternoon as though, when this Army is asked to help in providing security for the country, and when we are being asked to have this or that possible handicap removed, we are pursuing a ridiculous form of militarism which this House ought to condemn. That is the point of many of the speeches to which I have listened this afternoon, and I am bound to say that when the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) got up, I felt that a breath of fresh air had been blown into this House, and I was deeply grateful. In the approach of many Members of this House to this problem there was an atmosphere of unreality which to me was positively terrifying.
I wonder how many Members have ever tried to put themselves in the place of the men who are actually responsible for the security of this country and are not concerned with merely making speeches. After all, there is the War Cabinet to be considered, and because they carry that responsibility their opinion, naturally, carries weight. Many Members have spoken as if the decisions taken by the Government about the internment of aliens have resulted from a controversy between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War and that my Chief, after considerable controversy, just managed to win. That really is the impression that many speeches gave. I have never heard of anything so absurd in my life, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me in waving aside any nonsense of that kind. Many points have to be put up to the deciding body—the War Cabinet—about major questions of policy of this kind. It is sometimes supposed that the Army is the only fighting Service in this country, but the views of the Navy and Royal Air Force are important, as well as other views.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office said, quite truly, that military opinion was only one of the factors which had to be weighed in coming to very difficult decisions. My hon. Friend, in fact, made an admirable speech, but nobody who spoke afterwards paid the slightest attention to what he said. He explained the many reasons, quite apart from military opinion, for the internment of aliens. Practically every reason, except the military opinion, was ignored, and that was the kind of atmosphere in which this Debate took place.
I have said this because I thought it ought to be said, but I hope hon. Members will not think that on that account I have an unsympathetic view of the treatment of aliens in camps. I have very little to do with the question of whether aliens should be interned or not, but what I am concerned with is the question of how they are treated when in internment camps. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has entrusted me with the duty of conducting an inquiry into the way these camps are being run, and I propose to do that faithfully. I cannot say much in advance as I would like to make inquiries on the spot, but I can give the House some assurances about several points which have been raised this evening.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont) asked me to explain a little more clearly what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary meant when he talked about the exemption of C class aliens. I understand the position is this: So far as aliens in class C, to whom this exemption would apply, have been interned before instructions were issued to the police about them, arrangements will be made by the Home Office to see that they get the benefit of the exemption. The initiative will be taken by the Home Office, and there is no need for internees to take any action themselves.
I will only say a word about the suggestion that we should enlist aliens in a foreign legion. The War Office has no objection whatever to the idea in principle, but I beg hon. Members to remember that we are striving to arm our own Army. There is a certain amount of equipment to spare, and we want our own people to have it first. Some exceptions have been made. Rifles have been given to some foreign corps, but, on the whole, what is available at present must go to our own troops.
With regard to depressing rumours, the hon. Gentleman who preceded me gave, an example of how a perfectly loyal woman can spread a rumour of the most serious kind. I really believe it is the duty of responsible people who hear rumours of this kind to give information about them. I do not know how else
you can stop them. You cannot stop them by replying on the B.B.C. May I read the Defence Regulation which deals with these things:
Subject as hereinafter provided any person who publishes any report or statement relating to matters connected with the war which is likely to cause alarm or despondency shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to a fine not exceeding £50 or to both such imprisonment or fine.
You may say the lady here did nut mean to commit any such offence. She has an opportunity of satisfying the court that that is so.
I hope they will apply it to themselves. The regulation goes on to say that a person shall not be convicted if he proves that he had reasonable cause to believe that the report or statement was true or that publication thereof was not pernicious. That defence can be put up, but I do not believe these rumours are going to be stopped unless those who tell stories without being absolutely certain of their accuracy and the source from which they come are made an example of, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider taking action in that case.
There is one point that I did not understand. He spoke of the fear of internees as to what might happen to them if the Germans came to this country as they had come to others. Why should they be more afraid? They will not be handed over to the Germans unless we are in German hands. Their fate depends entirely on our defeating the Germans. They have only been handed over in France because the Belgian and Dutch armies were defeated and the Germans occupied their countries. The only thing they have to fear is a British defeat.
Of course, they understand that a British victory is their safety, but they say that if they were looking after themselves, they might be able to get away, while, if they are in camp and German troops come, they will be murdered. I beg the Home Secretary to have these things properly explained to them, because they have gone into the internment camps with the most ridiculous ideas of all kinds.
The people in the internment camps are in no more danger from parachutists and so on than those in English schools, who do not express these fears.
I should like now to return to the main theme, and to say to the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone), who was one of the first to initiate the Debate, that nobody recognises more fully than I do the part she has played in getting consideration, justice and good treatment for refugees. I believe she has rendered very real service in that way, not only to the refugees, but to this country. No one has a greater right than she has to speak on this subject, and I am sure she knows that everything she says is always listened to with attention, certainly in the Office which I represent. I think the hon. Lady has already made representations there, and I hope she has felt that their reception was not unsympathetic; but I think she will realise that, being an enthusiast, she is bound to lean a little to one side of the case, as all enthusiasts do. We have to remember, particularly at the present time, the other side of the case. We have to remember the responsibilities of the soldiers on whom the safety of this country depends; and therefore, much as I sympathise with the hon. Lady, I was also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) when she intervened, because she stated, with great courage, and I thought force, the view which the soldiers have. They are a very considerable part of this country at the present time, and they are carrying a greater responsibility than any Member of this House, except those who wear uniform.
That is the situation at the present time. This country has always been a great asylum to the distressed refugees from other countries, but it would be foolish not to recognise that, in the opinion of its own people, it is beginning to be a great asylum in another sense. That feeling was getting extremely strong. It is not merely in the Army that that view is taken. It is widespread; one hears it in every street. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool is perfectly right. One hon. Member said he was not able to detect that opinion anywhere. He is the most remarkable isolationist I have ever heard of.
I think most people would want to be satisfied that an enemy alien had really given substantial proof and would want to know what that proof was. It is extremely hard to come by. At any rate, the Army are responsible for the security of the asylum, and it must be supreme in that extremely momentous task. I make absolutely no apology for the fact that one of the factors which has had to be weighed in deciding the policy which we are now following is the opinion of the Army, an opinion in which I believe the Army represents the great majority of the people of this country. But apart from the question of the principle of internment, and with regard to the treatment in the camps, there is only one Army opinion, and that is that the treatment should be as good as it possibly can be. The Army likes to run an efficient show. I think it has a reputation for doing these things well. It hates not to be doing the thing up to all its traditions and standards. It has, however, been extremely difficult to maintain that standard in the conditions in which this task was suddenly cast upon the Army less than two months ago.
At that moment the Army was also being called upon to extend its ranks as fast as it possibly could. The number of men in itself involved an immense strain on all the accommodation available in this country. Then there was the re-equipment of the B.E.F., and the organisation of this country for defence against invasion. Apart from that gigantic task it was asked somehow or other to provide some 20 camps for these internees. While it has done its best, I should like to say here in the clearest terms that the business of looking after the internees is not the business of the Army, and I very much hope that the Army may, in due course, be relieved of it.
I do not pretend that things have been perfect under these conditions—far from it—but I honestly do not think that enemy aliens have more to complain of than many other sections of society which have had to undergo inconvenience and even hardship in the course of the war. There have been ridiculous exaggerations about the conditions in these camps. It has been stated that aged people are sleeping on the ground. I am told that that is not so. There has been a proportion of beds set aside for older people and invalids if there were any. The younger and absolutely fit persons will be sleeping art palliasses. It is really untrue that old and infirm people have not been given beds. We have been told that these internees have no books, newspapers or radio. It is true that they cannot buy books or receive them from their friends, and there is a very good reason, but they can obtain books from the booksellers and second-hand books from the Young Men's Christian Association and other friendly societies.
They have pocket money in the form of token money or credit to which their bank balances entitle them, and they can buy all the comforts they require, including tobacco. Again, there have been complaints about the food ration they receive; but their ration is on the same scale as the civilian ration except that they do not have butter, but margarine, or bacon. But for these small exceptions the ration is the same as the civilian ration in this country. It is a great deal better, however, than most people are receiving on the Continent of Europe. It has also been said that they were not allowed to bring their violins. I cannot imagine who said that, or from where that story came. They are entitled to bring any musical instrument, and one of the camps has a very good band.
I told that story, and I can supply the name. It is not, of course, universal. I know of another case where the police actually waited an hour so that a man could fetch his violin from another place.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure she did not mean to exaggerate. This habit of throwing out examples of exceptional cases as representative, is a most dangerous process. There are thousands of internees, and there may be a hundred hard cases, and we are told that they represent the fate of thousands. Hard cases make bad law, and every argument has been an argument generalising for a few hard cases. I hope that process will not continue.
With regard to visiting by representatives of societies, the joint committee which represents all the societies interested in refugees has appointed two liaison officers, one a Quaker and one a Jew, who will have full access to the camps, and have had such access for some days past. They can go to a camp and listen to any complaints and make any representations they please. A third liaison officer is to be appointed for the Catholics. In addition, we are considering the appointment of a welfare officer who can speak the languages of the internees and make representations. I hope hon. Members will gather from that that we are most anxious to see that the conditions of these camps are as good as possible.
I will gladly consider that, but I think it is better to get into touch with the joint committee which is undertaking this work on behalf of the refugees and which is the best judge of what the refugees need. I do not want to have perpetual visits of interested people to these camps, because it might appear that the internees are being treated rather like a curious spectacle. I would rather have the system of liaison officers representing friendly societies. If there is any special reason why Members should go to any particular camp, we shall be glad to arrange it, but a procession of Members going round the camps would not be of benefit.
Although thousands have been interned, the number of really hard cases is very small. The system, I admit, has of necessity been rough and ready but, unfortunately, that is a hard necessity in war. We shall try to make it less rough. I am sure the House will agree that it is better, in a situation of the kind in which the country now finds itself, to be rough and ready, than to be soft and unready. After all, we have destroyed the French Navy, against the heart of every sailor in this country and it is not very much to ask friends of this country among these aliens, to meet hardship and inconvenience, if, in the end, the victory on which they depend as much as we do, may be made in any way more certain. Hon. Members say that the reputation of this country is at stake. It is. There is only one thing that will save the reputation of this country and all that it stands for, and that is victory in the war.
The hon. Gentleman told us that when these internees have been sent to the Dominions the question whether they shall be interned there will rest with the Dominion Government. I would ask whether we shall send with them the evidence on which the Dominion Government can act, in other words the dossiers of the internees.
I will answer the question. They will be interned in the Dominions when they arrive, but the Home Secretary in this country will still retain the power to order them to be released in suitable cases. We have an undertaking from the Dominion Governments that they will treat them with every possible consideration and I think it more than likely that they will enjoy a rather greater measure of liberty in the Dominions than they could enjoy in this country.
It would obviously be within the power of the Dominion Government to order release in suitable cases, but the Home Secretary will retain the over-riding power here of ordering release in any case where he is convinced that the release will be in the national interest, or in the interest of our war effort.
I should like to ask two questions. To what extent has the placing of Nazis and non-Nazis in the same camp actually occurred, and is it the definite intention of the Government to segregate them? The other question is, whether permission can be given for local medical officers of health to inspect the camps?
The association in the same camp of Nazis and non-Nazis has been due entirely to accident, owing to the pace at which the work has had to be done, but I think that by now, the greater number of the arrogant Nazis have been removed, and in any case there is going on a most careful sorting out in order to ensure that people are in as congenial surroundings as it is possible to arrange. We are trying very hard to get families together. We cannot bring men and women with families together, but we are trying to put fathers and sons and brothers together. There is also a proposal that mixed camps should be set up. If mixed camps are started I presume they will be, like the women's camps, under another Department. The Home Office is the maid of all work in this as in many matters. As to the point about the medical officers, the local medical officers are the medical officers in the camps.
There is one special class of refugees about whom it is desirable to have information, and that is Class B refugees whose cases were to be revised but had not been revised before they were interned. Many of them would have been Class C if their cases had been reviewed. In one case the revising barrister had got part way down the list of names; all whose names happened to come after a certain letter in the alphabet were automatically interned as being Class B. They were in an area where the Home Office recognised that the original tribunal had classified the great mass of the refugees as B. Only a small number has C. They were to have had their cases reviewed. It is not their fault that they were not reviewed. Some of them are particularly useful people, who were anxious to do service, and were doing service, at the moment of their internment. I want to know whether there is some machinery by which these cases can be reviewed, in proper time and without undue delay, so that they may be dealt with, wherever cases appear.
I understand that the question raised by my hon. Friend is that of aliens who were placed in category B by the tribunal, whose cases would have been reconsidered by the regional advisory committee, and who might then have been either placed in internment in category A, left in category B, or, if they had been fortunate, placed in category C. As category C aliens, men anyway, have been interned, so far as the men are concerned they would not have been in any better pass as a result of reclassification, except in so far as they might have been subject to the list of exceptions.
We will see whether it is possible in these B cases to apply the exceptional treatment to which reference has been made. It will be extremely difficult, because the work of the advisory committees has been suspended and, at the present time, we have no machinery for reviewing the B cases in internment with a view to considering whether they ought to have been C cases or not; but we will look into the point. I cannot promise at this stage that anything will follow.
Might I ask the Under-Secretary a question? He gave a list of exceptions, and said that any individual in category C who came under that list would not be interned. I think that one exception was that of an individual doing work of national importance, or words to that effect. I know the words are rather wide. Are the Home Office to give an interpretation of those words, and to say specifically what they want, or will they consider each individual case? For example, will a trained nurse, doing nursing work, be considered to come in that category of doing work of national importance? Will every case be considered individually, on its merits, or will there be some further statement and classification of the general statement contained in the list of exceptions?
The list of exceptions which I read out was a condensation of a very full document which has been sent to the police authorities. I indicated in my speech that we were considering whether we could supply in some form to Members, or make available to the public, the contents of this document. I may say that, in the document, the words "work of national importance" are closely defined for the guidance of the police authorities, but it would take up too much time now for me to try to explain the position fully.