I desire to raise as briefly as possible the strange case of Dr. F. C. C. Curtis, who until the 30th June last was employed in the Ministry of Works and Planning. I always hesitate very much about raising the affairs of a private citizen in this House, but the proceedings which lead me to raise this matter to-day seem to call for the very serious consideration of Parliament. In the first place, an injustice, as I hold, has been done to a British citizen. In the second place, certain proceedings have occurred which seem to cast discredit upon the whole of the administrative machinery, and further a question seems to be raised as to whether there can be two classes of British citizenship, and whether citizens against whom no one can say a word of reprobation, who in every respect have carried out to the uttermost their duties as citizens, can be discharged without reason and with a stigma upon them.
It is necessary, I am afraid, that I should go into the matter in some little detail, and I will do so as briefly as I possibly can. There is no dispute as to the facts in this case. Dr. F. C. C. Curtis is the son of Francis John Curtis, who was born in 1861 in Blandford, Dorset. His mother was a German and, through no fault of his own he was born at Frankfurt in 1903. His birth was duly registered at a British consulate in Frankfurt. In 1914 his father, who at that time held a professorship in a German university, acquired through the processes of German law, dual citizenship. He was and is a British citizen; he never lost his British citizenship, although he had dual citizenship. The child, now Dr. Curtis, at that time was about 11 years of age, and he also acquired dual citizenship for a time. He never ceased at any time to be a British citizen. He completed his education in Germany and obtained employment there. He married a German wife and in 1933, when as is within the recollection of the House the persecution of the Jews began, he lost his employment and was driven from Germany. He reached the shores of this country, which at that time was welcoming the victims of the persecution of the Jews. It will be seen therefore that his antagonism to Hitler and all his works is of longer standing than that of many people whose names will readily occur to hon. Members to-day.
Coming to this country after a distinguished academic career in which he gained a diploma in architecture and engineering, he found employment for one year in the architectural office of the Southern Railway. For two years after that he was employed as assistant to a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of British Architects. He at the same time became an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a body which only admits British citizens to its membership. He became a chartered architect. He received an appointment as a lecturer in architecture at the University of Liverpool, and is still a member of the staff of that institution. In February, 1940, he was given leave of absence by the University of Liverpool in order to take up war work. One can easily imagine how eager he was to do that. His first employment was with Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, and it is interesting to note that the Minister of Supply found no difficulty in giving this person a permit to work under the Official Secrets Act.
No question was raised at this stage, or at any other stage, as to the fitness of this man to carry out the duties of a British citizen. He was employed in the first instance for one year in the designing office at a Royal Ordnance Factory. At a subsequent stage he left and did similar work in designing and lay-out in another Royal Ordnance Factory. Subsequently he had some part in the planning of three other Royal Ordnance Factories. At the end of 1941 it became necessary to make an immediate appointment to the Ministry of Works and Planning, and the Director-General, after having full inquiries made, employed Dr. Curtis. He received a letter of appointment on 12th February, 1941, signed by Mr. H. Hinchliffe Davies, appointing him as a salary of £860. He had to give up his work with Alexander Gibb and Sons at two days' notice, so important was the work for which he had been engaged. He was appointed as deputy to the chief allocation officer who has to deal with the allocation of building trade labour for the whole of the United Kingdom, and that position he continued to hold.
It might have been thought that if at some stage there was some doubt as to the propriety of employing this man in a public Department some inquiry should have been made to establish what was his attitude of mind towards this country and its enemies. No such inquiry was made. In fact so great was the confidence in him that he was employed in interviewing applicants for posts in the office. It is fair to say that he carried out his duties with enthusiasm and to the satisfaction of his chief. He was appointed by the Director-General and I am told that when he left the Director-General was exasperated. His was very exacting and responsible work and he worked at all hours in the evening and at week-ends.
On 5th June this year a letter was sent to Alexander Gibb & Son to say that after 30th June he would not be employed by the Ministry of Works and Planning. He never had any agreement with Alexander Gibb & Sons. His appointment, although asked for by the Director-General, was never confirmed but the usual arrangement was made that he would be put on one month's notice by Alexander Gibb & Son. On 9th June Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners inquired whether the letter meant that he would be employed directly by the Ministry from 30th June. The reply was that there would be no employment for Dr. Curtis after 30th June. It is relevant to inquire here whether he was in fact the best man for this job. He was the best man who was available at the time of his appointment, after all inquiries had been made. Further it is interesting to note that when, apparently, it had been decided that his services were no longer required a whole string of applicants from the Central Register were interviewed and were found to be unsuitable. He has been replaced now by a younger man, who may very well be his equal on paper. I think his qualifications on paper are certainly as good as those of Dr. Curtis, but he will require some months to become familiar with the technique of the work of his Department, which Dr. Curtis has built up.
Dr. Curtis, on 30th June left the ser vice of the Ministry without an explanation in writing and with a stigma which it is impossible for him to remove—a quite unjustified stigma. He received on 2nd July a calling-up notice for the Army. I want to state quite emphatically that there is no question here of this man wanting to escape from military service. He wants in this fight to be employed, as every Britisher worthy of the name wishes to be employed, in the place where he can render the best service, but the idea that a man of this capacity, who has been doing work of this responsibility and is, if not the very best man, at least one of the very best men in the country for it, should be put as a private in the Army is, as I said in my opening sentence, contrary to national policy as hitherto understood. I wish to ask whether there are two kinds of British citizens and whether there is any sanction, residing in anybody in the Treasury, which says that a man who has done all the duties of a British citizen is not to enjoy all the rights?
I also want to put one or two other questions which are relevant to these lamentable proceedings. If he is not fit to work for the country, why was he allowed to join the Home Guard the moment it was formed in 1940? Should no account be taken of his honour and patriotism? Should nothing be said and no account be taken of his part as a member of the Home Guard in the Liverpool blitzes, which were very severe? Why should he be enrolled on the Central Register and his name circulated to all Departments? What can be said for the Ministry of Supply who gave permission for him to be employed under the Official Secrets Act. Why should he be called as a juryman to the Liverpool Assizes, in order to pronounce judgment on other fellow-citizens? Above all, what can be said for the Ministry of Works and Planning, who employed him, indirectly it is true, in most important work, on work of so much secrecy and of a confidential nature, which he discharged to the satisfaction of everybody concerned? In fact, since this unfortunate happening people have come forward and praised the work he has done, and have spoken of the money he has saved and have described his work as brilliant. I submit that an injustice has been done to this man and ask that steps should be taken to remove it. Goings on of this kind cast discredit on administration. If the facts are not in dispute, what can be the cause of what has happened? I say with great reluctance that the facts seem to me to lead inevitably to the conclusion that there was some dispute within the Department, between the Establishment Branch and the Executive Branch.
It may be a good thing to have a rule with regard to nationality, but if so let it be administered, and administered properly throughout, so that no one can say it is used not in accordance with English methods and traditions. It is common knowledge to everyone that if there is such a rule it is frequently honoured in the breach. Everyone has heard of the Beaverbrook plan, under which enemy aliens in considerable numbers were brought out of camps to make the very machines which were to be used against the enemy. I hope the House will agree with me that there is a case for inquiry and restitution. I am glad to have the advantage of the presence of the Leader of the House. I venture to express the hope that he will have an inquiry made into this matter and deal with it as seems to him best.
I desire to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White). Dr. Curtis is a member of the staff of Liverpool University, one of the Universities which I have the privilege of representing in this House. He has done valuable service there, as I believe he has in all the tasks that he has undertaken. From nowhere have I heard any word of criticism of his work or of his character. So far as I have been able to go into this case, there has been no suggestion of any fault to be found with his personal character, with his record, with his aims or principles, or with his patriotism. The whole difficulty seems to have arisen from some ruling—whether it is a departmental ruling or whether it goes further, I do not know—which has been applied in a way that necessarily, in such a case as this, involves casting a serious slur on the character, of an honourable man, who has already done very great service to this country. I think the Government should take this opportunity to undo, as far as possible, the harm which has been done, and to remove any slur from the character of this honourable citizen, who has worked well for his country, and who has suffered greatly from what I believe to have been an injustice.
If there is a ruling affecting the ancestry of British citizens employed in the Government service, it ought to be a public ruling. If it were carried out consistently, none of us would be pleased at the consequences. Think of how many people who have lent lustre to our country have had German ancestry. In this case there is no suggestion of the sentiments or the views or the beliefs of the man being called into question. Yet the ruling is not applied systematically in all Government Departments. There is not only the instance which my hon. Friend has given, but in this House we have had the case raised of distinguished Germans who have been, and still are, quite rightly, employed by the B.B.C. or the Ministry of Information, as the case may be, and who are doing very good service. They are intensely opposed to the whole Nazi regime; they themselves have suffered injustice and have been made exiles, because of their race or their' beliefs; and they are, very rightly, employed in specialist work for which they are peculiarly fitted. If it is possible to waive such a ruling in their case, surely it should be done in this case, when the man has been tested for years in work of the greatest importance to the Government, and when his services are required by his colleagues and his superiors.
It should surely be possible in such a case for his services to be retained, not merely in the interests of the man but in the interests of the country. The matter is not merely one of the immediate interests of the country, in getting the work performed, but it goes further than that. If there be some old ruling, made with the best of objects, but which, if carried out mechanically, involves disadvantage to the country and injustice to the individual, I hope that that ruling will be revised, and that we shall have a clear pronouncement from the Government, which will not only clear the character and reputation of an admirable public servant, but will make it clear to everyone that we have no distinction of citizenship, no second-class citizenship reserved for those who happen to have, on one side or the other, a certain amount of foreign ancestry.
I thank the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) for raising this question, and so giving me an opportunity of dealing with the specific matter of the employment of Mr. Curtis by my Department, and of his discharge. On the wider question, I cannot answer: I can only answer about this particular man. If there is any suggestion of a slur being cast upon him, let me say that, so far as his services were concerned, we have nothing against him. There is no stigma as far as he is concerned. As to the facts, our interpretation is not exactly that of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead. The hon. Member has already asked me two Questions on the subject this month, and I have answered them fairly fully, but I could not then give all the information which I have the opportunity of giving now.
Let me recite two or three dates, to show the attitude of my Ministry. The Director of the building programme was required in February of this year to appoint an assistant, and the application of Mr. Frederick Charles Curtis, then employed by Messrs. Alexander Gibb and Partners, was considered. The Ministry of Labour and National Service were asked whether they would allocate Mr. Curtis to my Department. The Ministry of Labour, acting on information furnished to the Central Register by Mr. Curtis, to the effect that the present nationality of both his parents was German, advised us that he did not satisfy the regulations governing the nationality of persons to be employed in Government Departments, and recommended the engagement of another candidate. The need for an assistant was, however, so urgent that, there being no suitable candidate but Mr. Curtis available at that particular moment in the opinion of my, executive officer, it was decided to utilise his services for the time being. He was lent by his employers—he was never put on our staff—on a repayment basis. Subsequently, he and his employers were informed that his services were no longer required, and during the period when he was under notice by my Department he was called up for military service.
At the time Dr. Curtis was engaged was he ever told that there was this bar to, his employment, and that his employment in the Ministry was bound, therefore, to be of a temporary character?
From the hon. Gentleman's statement it would appear that this was not a matter of investigation, but that Dr. Curtis was only taken because at the moment they could not find anybody else, and that they intended to turn him out as soon as they could.
Mr. Curtis was born on 9th August, 1903, at Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany, the son of Francis J. Curtis, a British subject born in 1861 at Blandford in Dorset. The latter had become, about 1903, a professor in English at Frankfurt Academy and had married a German woman. In July, 1914, Professor Curtis sent a letter accepting the Chair in English at Frankfurt University, thereby according to his own statement—I have his letter—becoming a German civil servant and a German subject. He was required afterwards to declare that he had accepted German citizenship and this he did on the 5th or 6th October, 1914, regarding it as a confirmation of his declaration in July, 1941. The question arises, therefore, whether Professor Curtis became a German subject before or after the outbreak of the last war. That is the point. Did he become a German citizen prior to the outbreak of war or after the outbreak of war in August, 1914? The declaration of July, 1914, was thus confirmed in October, 1914. If he became a German in July, 1914, he lost his British nationality which he took no steps to recover.
In 1939 conditions became intolerable and he was anxious to leave Germany. His wife was taken ill and died in Germany and, the war coming on, the old gentleman was not able to escape. The British passports were prepared by the Consul officials in Frankfurt.
It is a question of whether he was a German citizen or a British citizen and the statement I am making is that by his acceptance of the Chair in English at the University of Frankfurt and by his own letter Professor Curtis accepted German nationality and confirmed it later in the year in October. If Professor Curtis voluntarily assumed German nationality in 1914 before the outbreak of war he lost his British nationality, but if after the outbreak of war he is deemed to have retained his British nationality. Professor Curtis's wife became a British subject on her marriage to Professor Curtis and if Professor Curtis lost his nationality in 1914, then Mrs. Curtis also lost hers. She married him while he was a Britisher. In those circumstances I feel certain that my Department has acted in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Regulations laid down by the Treasury. It not only applies to my Department but to each Department.
I have not been responsible for the complications arising out of this matter. It is Professor Curtis himself who is responsible for the difficulty in which I have been placed and I am casting no aspersions about the man himself or his qualifications. The Treasury laid down these Regulations which require that an applicant for temporary employment in the Civil Service should not only be a British subject but also the child of a person who is a British subject. That is the Treasury instruction applying to all Departments to anyone who seeks employment in the Civil Service. Professor Curtis is still in Germany, and Mr. F. C. C. Curtis, that is the gentleman about whom we are talking now, married a German-born woman, and her parents are, presumably, still in Germany. It is clear to my Department, therefore, that there is such doubt as to the nationality of Professor Curtis and consequently as to the eligibility of Mr. F. C. C. Curtis's services in a Government Department, as to warrant the refusal of the Ministry to employ him. That is all I have to say about the matter. He was invited to be loaned to us from Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners. Our first inquiry was to the Ministry of Labour asking whether they would allocate him to my Department and then came the Treasury Regulation under which we are not entitled to employ aliens if there is a British subject to do the work required.
After inquiries were set on foot he was never employed by my Department but loaned to my Department by Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners. When it became clear that he was unable to satisfy conditions as to British parentage to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Labour and the Regulations of the Treasury, there was no alternative for my Department but to ask him to leave. I repeat what I said before. We do not complain about his capabilities, his quality or his industry and we have no desire to say anything against him in any shape or form. As far as we are concerned he was a very competent and capable man while working in that capacity.
When listening to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Planning I found myself getting more and more involved in what I can only refer to as red tape. I had the feeling that his greatest contribution was robust commonsense in all the problems he tackled. But here we find a distinguished architect—and I pay my Friends opposite the tribute that they would not advocate the claims of any person who was not thoroughly reliable and loyal to this country—who can be employed by Alexander Gibb and Partners on most important secret and confidential work, and who has to be discharged after previous appointment, because of some Treasury Minute. I really cannot see that we can ever make any progress in that way nor can the hon. Gentleman expect to show this House why, on the one hand, people who are not eligible for work with the Ministry of Works and Planning, can be employed by private firms and in ordnance factories, and, on the other hand, why competent architects are to be discharged simply because of some Treasury rule.
I think I might dispose of what appears from the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Holland-with-Boston (Lieutenant Butcher) to be a little misunderstanding. There is a very great difference between the way in which a person is employed by a contractor on a confidential job and the way he is employed in the Civil Service. A number of confidential matters are necessarily circulated in the Civil Service, to which civil servants must have access if they are to carry on their jobs. One of the most important factors in all Civil Services—and this applies to countries all over the world, and I have seen lots of them in Russia—is the question of security. When one has to have regard to the question of security, it is almost the universal rule to have some Regulations as regards the nationality of civil servants. In this case, as my hon. Friend told the House, there is a Regulation. It is not Treasury red tape but a necessary Regulation to give security in the British Civil Service.
I was going to explain that the only general relaxation of any of these rules is that, if you absolutely cannot find a British subject who can do the job required, and can find anyone else to do it, you may, with special sanction, use that other person. But that, of course, is only in very special cases indeed. In this case someone else has been found to do the job and he is doing it. The difficulty arises from the fact that during a certain period of time this man was borrowed from Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners to do the job. That method of borrowing people, which is not a regular method in the Civil Service, but a war emergency method, is liable to make what appears to be an anomaly in such a case as this. When a man is to be a member of the Civil Service as a regular civil servant, one must observe the rules of the Service. That is the reason why, in this case, this gentleman does not qualify under the rules.
But surely in this case there was no question of his becoming a regular civil servant? He was on temporary war service; he was already doing the job, and if it was wrong for him to have access to confidential documents, he ought never to have been employed by the Department at all. He was employed for months.
I am not saying whether he ought to have been employed or not. That is a matter which one might possibly and quite legitimately criticise, but the moment the question had to be decided definitively he could no longer be employed in the Civil Service. It does not matter whether temporarily or permanently—that is merely a matter of establishment. The difficulty and confusion have arisen here because he was in the anomalous position, as a servant of Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, of working in a Civil Service Department. Whether that was wise or not, I do not know. I do not know the circumstances and I cannot go into them, but there is not the slightest reason why anyone should think that Mr. Curtis is other than perfectly honourable and straight forward and a great friend of Britain and a most loyal and patriotic man. Nobody should think other than that because this has happened. I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no accusation of any sort or kind in that way. It is merely that, under the rules for the Civil Service, people born in the curious circumstances in which Mr. Curtis was born are not eligible.
The only reason I intervene is not that I know anything about this case or know Mr. Curtis, but that I have a certain connection with the University of which he is a member, and I find the explanation given to-day most unsatisfactory. I quite accept the Lord Privy Seal's statement. You must have regulations of this kind from the point of view of security. I accept the view that it may be necessary to say, as the Treasury have said, that from the point of view of security no alien—and I accept the Government's statement that apparently Mr. Curtis is a German subject—should be admitted to enter the service of a Government Department. But the fact is that this man, by a roundabout means, was admitted. [An HON. MEMBER: "For two years."]
The fact is that he was borrowed from civilian contractors, although the Department may have got round the Treasury regulations, and was given exactly the same access to official secrets and was, therefore, exactly the same danger to security as if he had been taken on as a regular civil servant. I submit that it was grossly improper for the Ministry of Works and Planning to seek to evade the Treasury regulation, which had been necessarily imposed for security reasons, by this roundabout method of getting him in. Not only was it grossly improper, but it was grossly unfair to the individual unless at the time he was taken on he was told of the conditions.
I understand that before he was brought into the Department, the Department knew his parents were of German origin. They knew that from his own application form, they knew that he was not eligible under the Treasury regulation. In order to get round that, because they could not for the moment find anybody else, they adopted this device of borrowing him from civilian contractors. Yet they had it at the back of their minds that if and when they could find another suitable applicant to whom this bar did not apply they would sack Mr. Curtis—or at least, not sack him, but send him back to civilian employment and bring in somebody else. That was unfair to Mr. Curtis unless he was told at the time of these circumstances and unless, when he allowed himself to be borrowed, he had full knowledge that as soon as somebody else was found to replace him he would have to return to ordinary employment. It was merely a matter of ordinary decency, honesty and fair dealing that in taking a man on under these circumstances he should have been told. If my impression of this case is wrong I hope the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will point out my error and make me more convinced than I am at the moment that this gentleman has not been treated in a way which has exposed him quite unnecessarily to difficulties and embarrassments.
I was glad to hear the words of wisdom that fell from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley). I think the Lord Privy Seal will agree that a grave in justice has been done to a very honourable man. Under the circumstances a Government Department, knowing that at the earliest opportunity it would get rid of him and do harm, should not have engaged him. Having given loyal service, it does not consort with the general English idea of justice that so distinguished an architect, a lecturer at Liverpool University and a man worthy of being an associate of the Royal Institution of British Architects should have been taken away from civil employment, knowing that at the Government's convenience he would be put on the scrap-heap—
Then it is a little bit worse. I have understated the case. He was then immediately called up for service, which was obviously done by arrangement with the Ministry of Labour. Within a fortnight of leaving his employment he was called up, although I understand he was quite willing to join the Army and that there is no difficulty there. All the same, I think there ought to be some inquiry. The one good thing that has come out of this is the generous testimonial that the Lord Privy Seal and the Parliamentary Secretary have paid to this man's character and services. That is some amends for what, I think, is a rather unfortunate story.
Perhaps I can make the matter more clear. I can only say I was not aware that at the time this man was employed by my Ministry on loan from Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, he had any doubts about his nationality. As soon as he came to my Department inquiry was started to see whether he met the requirements of the regulation satisfactorily. As soon as it was discovered that he was not able to do so, we terminated his employment, and I think we ought to be congratulated for taking the step we did.
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that in introducing somebody into this position of great confidence, where the security Regulations have to apply, his Department did not make inquiries first as to whether they were satisfying the requirements, but let him into the Department and only then started to inquire as to the nationality of his parents?
I do not want it to be assumed that we are neglectful, but there was some doubt about the nationality, and because of that doubt, inquiries were immediately set on foot. The question of ability does not enter into the matter at this stage; nor does the other question of his being called to the Services; that entirely depends upon his age, and has nothing to do with his having been lent to the Ministry by Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners and nothing to do with his employment during that period. To raise those matters seems to me to import into the temporary use of this gentleman and then his discharge something that I do not think is really warranted. The simple fact was that he was invited to come in, because of certain qualifications he was known to possess, to give assistance. He came in, not to build up the Department, as the hon. Member for East Birkenhead said, but to give assistance to a man already there. He worked in that way for a time and then inquiries were made—honest, genuine, and with no prejudice. The only condition under which the Ministry are entitled to place anyone in employment and on their pay roll is set out in the Regulations. He was not able to satisfy the terms of the Regulations. He made a complaint to me that we were not speedy enough from the time he was employed. He has not been employed for two years. It was in February of this year that he was invited to come over and at the end of May, I think, he was discharged. He was not with the Ministry for many months.
It may be that there has been danger to security in his work for a private firm—I do not know. I do not make that charge. As far as I know, there was no danger to security while he was in my Ministry, but he did not satisfy the condition under which he could be made a civil servant. Therefore, obviously the only thing for the Ministry to do was to terminate the arrangement with Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners and turn him back.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether, during the last month, at the time he was not employed by the Ministry of Works and Planning but engaged in working there, he was not in the process of being appointed deputy to the Director of Allocation who was employed part-time on other work with another Ministry and also in connection with building?