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Fraulein Schmidt (Entry Visa)

Orders of the Day — National Insurance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1957.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

10.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Denzil Freeth Mr Denzil Freeth , Basingstoke

It was just over a year ago that I was fortunate enough to be able to raise on the Adjournment the question whether or not the Home Office should grant an entry visa for permanent residence in this country of an ex-German national now living in Siberia, a Frau Schmidt, and I am happy to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) was gracious enough to say that there seemed to be a possibility that this happy occasion might be fulfilled. Indeed, subsequent to that Adjournment debate, Frau Schmidt was granted the visa which she desired. I hope that my hon. Friend the present Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will follow the excellent example set by her predecessor in the former matter.

It was after the granting of the permanent entry visa to this country for Frau Schmidt that the question of granting a temporary entry visa into this country for her daughter, Fraulein Schmidt, arose. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford when he was Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to see if it was possible for Fraulein Schmidt to be granted a temporary entry visa, the main reason for this being that Frau Schmidt is an aged lady. After many years of privation and hardship in Siberia it is quite natural—indeed it would be surprising if it were not so—that she should not be in a fit state of health to make the journey to this country alone.

Therefore, I sought permission from the Home Office for Fraulein Schmidt to come here on a temporary entrance visa, to accompany her mother and then to return to Siberia, or wherever else she happened to want to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford wrote to me on 18th January stating that before the Home Office could consider granting a visa for an alien to come here, it had to be reasonably satisfied that the alien would be able and willing to leave the United Kingdom at the end of the period of the visa. Immediately upon receiving that letter, I set about trying to obtain from Fraulein Schmidt, herself in Siberia, a signed declaration that she guaranteed that she would leave this country upon the expiration of the temporary entrance visa.

That letter from my hon. Friend implied that when such an assurance was obtained from Fraulein Schmidt, the Home Office would at least regard it as being a piece of evidence of some importance. I was, therefore, a little shocked and surprised to obtain from my hon. Friend the present Joint Under-Secretary a letter written on 6th May saying: I am sorry that the family have gone to the trouble of getting this assurance… That was the assurance obtained from Fraulein Schmidt. It was an assurance for which my hon. Friend's predecessor had virtually asked, and I can assure my hon. Friend that Fraulein Schmidt's family took very ill indeed this piece of what seemed to them rather gratuitous impertinence. My hon. Friend's letter went on: I can find nothing in Mr. Deedes's letter of 18th January to suggest that the provision of such a document would affect our decision. Immediately after that, in her letter of 20th May, my hon. Friend stated that she could not be satisfied that Fraulein Schmidt would leave the country at the expiration of any temporary entrance visa granted to her.

I do not blame my hon. Friend for that. We all know that England, under a Tory or any other Government, appears to a great many foreigners behind the Iron Curtain as a place of very desirable residence. There have been cases where guarantees and assurances have been given by aliens seeking temporary entrance visas that at the expiration of the visas they would leave our shores. Then, when the temporary visas had expired, the aliens have refused to go and my hon. Friend has found herself in the difficulty of having to permit them to stay beyond the expiration of the visas or to seek to deport them with all the odium and invidious proceedings which such deportation orders must bring about.

I was a little surprised, however, although I fully sympathise with my hon. Friend in not considering Fraulein Schmidt's assurance to be enough, at the passage in her letter of 20th May in which she said: In considering the matter we had to take into account the previous history, from which it is clear that Emilie Schmidt really wants to settle hare and that if she came she would have no intention of returning to Russia. Whether upon the expiration of her temporary visa Fraulein Schmidt intends to return to Russia, I do not know. Certainly it would be most unfortunate if it were suggested that she did not expect to return, because, obviously, the Soviet authorities would not then grant her permission to leave Russia. The correspondence I have had with my hon. Friend and her predecessor does not lead me to such a view. However, we had obtained an assurance from Fraulein Schmidt which my hon. Friend did not consider good enough.

The question therefore, as I saw it, if Fraulein Schmidt were granted a temporary entry visa, was whether my hon. Friend was likely to be put in the position, upon the expiration of that visa, of Fraulein Schmidt refusing to go back to Russia. Naturally my two hon. Friends, the Joint Under-Secretaries of State, being kind-hearted people, would not wish to deport anybody back to the shores of Soviet Communism. I therefore tried to discover whether Fraulein Schmidt was considered by the Federal German Republic to be a German national or not. Finally, after a great deal of correspondence, I managed to send to my hon. Friend a document which I thought established that position beyond doubt.

On 2nd July of this year my hon. Friend wrote to me as follows:— I have had same inquiry made about the document"— that is, the document that I had sent her— and I am prepared to accept that it provided evidence that Fraulein Emilie Schmidt and her mother are recognised as Germans by the Federal Republic and that they should be able now to obtain German passports and facilities to enter Western Germany. We had therefore reached the stage where, if Fraulein Schmidt were granted a temporary entry visa, she had given the assurance that she would leave at its expiry, and that she was a Western German national, and that upon deportation from this country she would not have to be sent back behind the Soviet lines. But my hon. Friend did not consider that enough. She went on to say that it was necessary, before Fraulein Schmidt could be granted a temporary visa, to make certain that she had a settled base in Germany.

On 26th July, my hon. Friend wrote saying: You now say that she has a home to go to in Germany and that the repatriation document would not have been given if this had not been so. I have not taken any steps to check what is the effect of the repatriation document beyond commenting, as I did in my previous letter, that it was some evidence that the two women would be accepted into Germany by the German authorities, but the words in my letter of 2nd July must be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Frau Schmidt cannot be allowed to come here on a visit until she has a settled base in Germany to which she can return. I presume that my hon. Friend meant "Fraulein Schmidt".

I then set about seeing if it were not possible that Fraulein Schmidt had in fact a settled base in Germany to which it was possible for her to go—either in that she had relatives there who would receive her into their home or had friends of the family with whom she could make a home if she arrived in Germany penniless and deported from this country at the expiration of her temporary visa. Indeed, on 21st August my hon. Friend confirmed me in the belief. She wrote: Throughout this lengthy correspondence the difficulty in Emilie Schmidt's case is that we cannot be satisfied that if she came here directly from Russia she would leave after a temporary stay. Nothing that has been said has removed our doubts on this point and I am afraid that I am not prepared to agree to her coming here for a visit unless she has first settled herself in a home elsewhere abroad to which she would return. My hon. Friend must know that that is quite impossible, because the one thing that the Russian authorities will never do is to give Fraulein Schmidt an exit permit to Dave Russia and go to Western Germany. That must be painfully obvious, because as far as Russia is concerned she is a Russian citizen and as far as Western Germany is concerned she is a German citizen. Therefore, it is obvious that to say that Fraulein Schmidt must wait until she is granted a permit by the Russians to make a home in Western Germany is equivalent to saying that she must wait for the Greek Kalends; it does not enter into the position at all.

I managed, through the agency of Fraulein Schmidt's sister-in-law—a constituent of mine—and her husband, to obtain a letter from a Frau Pathun of Sohlingen, in Germany, and I have here the following declaration. Roughly translated—I do not think my translation is inaccurate—it reads: Herewith I, Eleanor Pathun, living in Sohlingen, Northern Germany, declare that I will take into my household Fraulein Emilie Schmidt, born 7th December, 1918, at present living in the U.S.S.R., in the case of her leaving that country. The case has now reached this stage: Fraulein Schmidt has applied for temporary entrance to this country in order that she might accompany her mother, Frau Schmidt, from Siberia. Fraulein Schmidt has given every assurance of which she is capable that she will leave this country on the expiry of her temporary visa, and we have the assurance of the German authorities that Fraulein Schmidt is a German subject, and that therefore, if she were deported at the end of her temporary stay, having refused to go back to Russia, she can enter Western Germany as a German national. We also have the assurance of a woman in Germany who is prepared to take Emilie Schmidt, whether penniless or not, into her home and look after her.

I submit that the case is not like those which trouble my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, in which an alien comes to this country on a temporary visa and on its expiry refuses to leave, weeps tears, and says, "You can't send me back to horrible Russia." If Fraulein Schmidt refuses to go back to Russia my hon. Friend can, with a clear conscience, tell her to leave this country and can say, "I know you can go to Germany and that you have friends there who are prepared to take you in."

I assure my hon. Friend that if Fraulein Schmidt is granted such a visa on such terms I will never reproach my hon. Friend should she find it necessary to deport Fraulein Schmidt at the end of her temporary stay in this country. I ask her to think again before she makes her reply.

This is a question of two lives behind the Iron Curtain. It is not for us to say whether, on the expiry of her temporary visa, Fraulein Schmidt will go back to Russia or will go elsewhere. The only point that concerns the British Government is that, if deported from this country, she has somewhere to go and a family to receive her. Should Fraulein Schmidt not obey the terms of her visa, my hon. Friend's conscience will be clear.

11.3 p.m.

Photo of Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith , Chislehurst

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) has interested himself very strenuously in the particular case of a mother and sister of one of his constituents, who are living behind the Iron Curtain, Frau and Fraulein Schmidt. We at the Home Office, as I believe my hon. Friend accepted and understood in his speech, have to consider cases in relation to established policy. That policy concerns not one case which may interest a particular hon. Member and play upon his humanitarian instincts, not even a handful of cases; we have thousands of cases of like degree. I am sure that it would be wrong if the principles on which the immigration control is exercised were varied in accordance with the amount of publicity or Parliamentary pressure applied to them. These things have to be judged on their merits in exactly the same way as many other applications we receive.

It can be agreed that conditions behind the Iron Curtain are less pleasant than those in this country. What we cannot accept is that this country should accept any alien who prefers conditions here to those in his own country, or that the mere fact that someone in this country is prepared to provide accommodation for alien relatives is sufficient reason for us to grant permanent residence, which I still believe is the desire and intention of this lady.

The principles on which we administer immigration control have been quite clearly made known to my hon. Friend. Indeed, he has outlined them in his speech as well as I could. We are not a country of immigration. We do, however, consider sympathetically the question of elderly and, in particular, isolated or distressed relatives under the Distressed Relatives Scheme. As my hon. Friend said, following the pledge given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in a previous Adjournment debate, when he was in the position I now occupy, we agreed in principle to accept the mother, Frau Schmidt, under the Distressed Relatives Scheme. We did not accept the application of Fraulein Schmidt, the daughter, to take up permanent residence in this country. She is in employment, she has a married sister in Russia and does not qualify under existing policy for permanent residence.

Having obtained permission for the mother to take up residence in this country the hon. Member and his constituents, if I may say so, changed their ground. With a manoeuvre with which I regret to say we are all too familiar in the Home Office, we were informed on 8th January that Frau Schmidt could not travel without her daughter, and it was suggested that the latter be allowed temporary entry—which is what the hon. Member is now asking—into the United Kingdom to accompany her mother, after which it was suggested that Emilie Schmidt would proceed to Germany.

I had conversations with my hon. Friend in which, I am sure in absolutely good faith, he assured me that the family had accepted the idea that the daughter must go on to Germany, but, within days of my hon. Friend's assurance, Mrs. Schmidt, the English born wife of Mr. Schmidt, who is a resident in this country, was writing to the Prime Minister asking that both her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law be given indefinite residence in the United Kingdom. The then Joint Under-Secretary of State again emphasised that we could only consider favourably a visa application from Frau Schmidt.

My hon. Friend raised a complaint about the letter sent to him by my hon. Friend who was previously Under-Secretary. The paragraph over which there has been a misinterpretation I think is quite plain, that the alien is able and willing to leave the United Kingdom at the end of the visit. There have followed various undertakings which I think my hon. Friend must realise are of little practical value unless Fraulein Schmidt has established and taken up an alternative residence outside Russia. I know my hon. Friend agrees with me, and I accept with him, that if Fraulein Schmidt obtains an exit visa from Russia she certainly will not go back. I do not blame her for that, but at the Home Office we have to be realistic and use our common sense in many hundreds of like cases. It is perfectly obvious that if Fraulein Schmidt comes out of Russia she will never go back voluntarily. We should not expect her to do so.

She could not be made to go unless she has some home elsewhere where she has established her residence, where the country has already accepted her as a resident and to which in the last resort, if we had to use the powers at our command, she could be sent. That is why we have said that a visa for a visit might be considered if Fraulein Schmidt had a settled home in Western Germany, to which racially she would appear to belong, and where she might conceivably be able to go under a scheme for repatriation of Germans from Russia. I would, however, assure my hon. Friend that it is not as easy as he imagines. The Germans have accepted them as German citizens who can be allowed out under their repatriation scheme. That does not mean that if she chooses first to come to England they will then automatically accept her for permanent residence in Germany, and it is of that we have to be assured.

Photo of Mr Denzil Freeth Mr Denzil Freeth , Basingstoke

If I were able to obtain from the German Embassy in this country an assurance that they would allow Fraulein Schmidt to enter penniless into Western Germany on the expiration of the temporary exit visa, would my hon. Friend agree to look at the case again?

Photo of Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith , Chislehurst

If an assurance of facilities for permanent residence were forthcoming, I should indeed look at it again.

I must tell my hon. Friend that I am surprised that the advice which, in all sincerity and in an endeavour to help this family, has been repeatedy given through him appears not to have been followed. It was given in the case of both Frau Schmidt and Fraulein Schmidt, and it was that in their own interests it would have been better for them to endeavour to obtain exit visas in the past year, during which this case has been running, through the official German repatriation organisation, when this opportunity offered the most likely possibility of their being granted an exit visa from the Soviet Union. That would possibly have made it easier and quicker for them to get out of the Soviet than trying for an exit visa to come to this country.

Largely through the efforts of my hon. Friend it has been established that Emilie Schmidt and her mother are recognised as Germans by the Federal authorities, and they should be able to obtain Federal passports and facilities to enter Western Germany. They have been accepted on the repatriation list.

There has been a persistent refusal by the family and my hon. Friend to follow the natural course—and possibly the quickest course of getting out of the Soviet by these German nationals—of applying for entry to the country whose nationality they claim and whose Government have accepted them as nationals on a repatriation list. Consequently, it is difficult for us to draw any other conclusion than that permanent residence in the United Kingdom is intended. There are now, I agree, certain political difficulties in the way, but for the last year it would have been in the family's interests to try that channel rather than to persist in the demand that they must come to England.

We can only feel that it is the intention of this lady to arrive in this country and, if it is humanly possible, to stay here permanently. The basis for the entry of any visitor is that he or she should have a settled base in some country of returnability. Nobody expects this lady to go back to Russia, but she is a German national, accepted by the German repatriation authorities, and it seems to me natural that she should have used that channel had she intended to go back as a German national. Fraulein Schmidt would not return to Russia, and I certainly do not blame her for that. It is therefore logical and I believe not unreasonable that she should be required to establish hex right of entry and residence in the country whose nationality she claims.

I must point out that this question is still very largely hypothetical, since we do not know that either of these ladies will be able to leave Soviet territory at all. It would have been easy for the Home Office to have authorised visas in the expectation that the authorisation would not be implemented, but that would not have been honest and it is not the way we work.

It is our duty to apply to these unfortunate cases, impartially but without undue rigidity, the principles which from time to time have been announced in the House, but it does not lessen my regret at not being able to satisfy my hon. Friend that the issue between us may well be academic, in a sense, because we have no assurance that these two ladies will be allowed out of Soviet Russia. The complicated equation represented by all these considerations cannot he resolved because of the unknown factor—what will be the attitude of the Soviet authorities?

In essence, therefore, this case is of someone permanently resident here seeking to bring into this country a foreign relative. That is a very common situation. It is a natural result of filial feeling and family affection, but at the same time we have to recognise that we have many thousands—indeed, hundreds of thousands—of foreign-born and still, in many instances, foreign nationals, in this country. They, realising that life in Britain is far more pleasant than behind the iron curtain and elsewhere, are anxious to bring over their relatives; and unless the long established policy of controlling immigration is to be seriously subverted, we must have some check. This was done by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he was Home Secretary by means of the Distressed Relatives Scheme and that Scheme has held the field with only minor modifications.

Under it we have accepted Frau Schmidt as a person in some distress, but we must make it clear that the sister in employment, who has a married sister in Russia, should rightly be expected to take up her opportunity under the German repatriation scheme and establish, first, her residence there. My hon. Friend who raised this subject appears to assume that it is automatic that, having been accepted under this Scheme she can enter Germany and come to this country. I am not so sure, but if he can bring some assurance that she will be accepted as a permanent resident in Germany, then I shall be very happy to look at this case again.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Eleven o'clock.