HL Deb 20 November 1918 vol 32 cc310-9

LORD WITTENHAM rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps it is proposed to take in order to prevent or regulate an influx of Germans into this country on the declaration of peace.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, to show the intense interest that your Lordships' House has taken in this and the cognate subject of the influx of aliens generally after the war, I need only mention that this is the third time in the present week that these subjects have been before your Lordships' House. On Monday, on the Motion of my noble and gallant friend Lord Beresford, a Resolution was readily—I might almost say eagerly—accepted by the House that in future only British-born subjects should be employed in the Army, the Navy, and the Civil Service. When my memory runs back to the early days of August, when we were discussing certain amendments to an Aliens Bill, I feel that we have travelled fast and far, because I doubt if your Lordships would have gulped down then what was so readily accepted last Monday.

Yesterday we were engaged upon a topic of tremendous importance—namely, emigration and the immigration of aliens generally. The noble Lord, the late Home Secretary, explained with his accustomed lucidity the steps that are proposed to be taken by His Majesty's Government. He said that a new Aliens Bill will be taken as soon as possible in the new Parliament, to set up a barrier against an incursion of aliens from any country on a large scale, which must undoubtedly occur if the present Aliens Act, under which the Government are now proceeding, came to an end at the termination of the war, which I understood from the noble Viscount it would.

There is an enormous difference, to my mind, between the influx of aliens generally and the influx of Germans. One feels as regards friendly aliens, those who have fought with us side by side through these four and a quarter years of terrific war, that we must grapple them to our souls with hooks of steel so far as we possibly can—considering our own people, naturally, first of all. In the difficult months, perhaps in the difficult years, that are before us, we shall not be able, even in the matter of friendly aliens, to be as generous as we should like to be, because we must consider our own people first. It is no good talking with one side of our mouth about the new heaven and the new earth if, on the other hand, we are going to allow an incursion, friendly or otherwise, in immense numbers, of foreigners, with whom we shall not be able to deal economically.

We know the Germans now. Before the war we did not. I need only quote to your Lordships a sentence of the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Arthur Balfour, who is not given to using excessive language, and whose language, even when criticising in a most hostile sense, is always well within bounds. He said "Brutes the Germans were at the beginning of the war, and brutes they are to-day." Before the war we did not know they were brutes, but now not a man, woman, or child can say anything but that they are brutes. Before the war we knew they were everywhere—in the street, in the lanes of the country, in the shop, in the banking house, in large businesses, in small businesses, living on our coasts, spying in our naval yards, spying in the great seaports where our navies were assembled, spying in our barracks, spying in our palaces, spying in our cottages. We know it all. Are these the people that we are going to have back again after the war? Economically are we going to have them back, because while they were spying they were working for low wages? They were able to work for low wages for the very easy and patent reason that they were nationally subsidised from home. The Fatherland was looking after them. They came with a good, fat sum in marks from the Fatherland. They were able to work for low wages and undercut our own people, while at the same time performing the offices for which they came, to spy upon us in our business and in our pleasures.

For that reason and for that reason alone—and they will do it again!—does anybody suppose that their hearts are changed? Does anybody, however much he or she may wish to think their hearts are changed, think their hearts really are changed? The man-eating tiger does not change his stripes as soon as all that. In the evolution of nature it would take many and many a generation for a man-eating tiger to become a lamb, and not a tiger. The souls of men, once they have become impregnated with guilt in the way that the whole German nation has become impregnated, and having been dyed crimson, are not going to be whiter than snow to-day, or to-morrow, or the next day, or the next generation. Are you going to have the Germans back with that certainty in view?

After the long struggle with France—when we were fighting a chivalrous foe and not a nation of devils—it was found necessary to pass an Aliens Act. In 1816 such an Act was passed to prevent, amongst other things, our then enemies from coming to our shores. It was an Act that was prolonged each two years—it was drawn I think only for two years—until 1826, and then a permanent Act dealing with the matter was passed into law. If that were necessary then, surely ten thousand times more is it necessary to-day. It is necessary not only economically but morally. Do we want our people to be infected with this malign foreign influence which not only does not care to distinguish good from bad but revels in the bad and despises the good? The late Crown Prince said that, "they (meaning the Germans) would never be gentlemen and that we should always be fools." Well, we have a chance in the days that are coming to show that we can still be gentlemen and yet that we are not going to be fools. We have been fools enough and long enough.

What a great many of us have felt—and that is why we regard the future with anxiety amounting almost to dismay—is that all through this war, when we have been fighting for our lives, there has been a nucleus—perhaps a small one—of malign influence that has never allowed the powers-that-be to deal with the German menace in our midst (as it has been, and as it is) as it would have been dealt with if the powers-that-be had had free hands. That malign influence may be as impalpable as the air, but we feel and know that it is there. Now, if that malign influence is going to direct our policy in the time that is coming, I ask this question confidently. We are on the eve of the most tremendous, the most momentous, probably the most far-reaching in its results, General Election that has ever taken place in the history of this country, and there is one matter which this huge electorate, immensely enlarged, understands perfectly clearly, and I say has absolutely made up its mind upon. What are you going to do with the Germans; the Germans who are here, and the Germans who are coming unless you stop them? Ask the 3,000,000 soldiers who are still at the Front and who have been fighting with the barbarous foe all these years whether when they come back they want to find Germans—fresh Germans, and ever fresh Germans—in active competition with them for work. And ask those at home. Ask the widows and the daughters of the men who have died whether they want to see the Germans here, whether they want to shake that ensanguined hand, and to listen to the cry "Kamerad, Kamerad," when this war is over. I hope that the Government, on the eve of this Election, will be able to tell us their policy; because that is the meaning of my Question. I want to know their policy in regard to the Germans. On that policy largely depends, I believe, the issue of the General Election. I am perfectly certain that in nineteen constituencies out of twenty this will be made one of the great outstanding questions—Is it going to be Britain for the British, or Britain for the Germans?

Every noble Lord present in this House to-night will remember the Election of 1906, called the "Chinese Slavery Election," and the notorious Radical poster which then helped to sweep the country. Undoubtedly it was a very powerful poster, although in the circumstances, in my opinion, a very dishonest one. It consisted of a number of Chinamen in chains, and, in the background, spectres of British soldiers standing looking at the Chinamen in chains, and one of them asking, "Is that what we died for?" What a poster you could frame for this General Election if you are going to have the Germans back again: Germans in the foreground of the poster taking all the best billets, under-cutting us as before, spying as before, permeating us as before; and, in the background, the ghosts of British soldiers asking, "Bill, is that what we died for?" The General Election will be decided upon that issue.

No, the heart of the German is not changed. The Government may have changed on the face of it; Germany may have put on a new garment for the moment. The Government has changed with the ex-Kaiser just over the border ready to come back. What do you see with the change of Government? Do you see any amelioration of the cruel heart? No; it remains as cruel as ever before. We read with bleeding hearts and with streaming eyes the accounts of the thousands of our prisoners flowing across from Germany into the friendly country of France, scantily clothed—and even when they are clothed it is only in rags of German uniforms—three-quarters starved, dying by the way, hardly able to reach our ranks, and in many cases not able to do so. That is Germany with a new heart! That is the Germany with which you are dealing to-day, and that is the Germany you have to deal with after the war. Therefore I pray His Majesty's Government with all the earnestness that my poor, humble, feeble, insignificant voice may possess, to take their resolution in both hands—it will not want much resolution considering that the whole of the people of the country are at their backs—and if there is a German influence, put it behind them as they would Satan. Think of your own people and say. "No more of this. Britain for the Britons first. The Empire for those who have made it, and not for the Germans." If the Conclave of Nations is to be a real peace table for us and for our Allies who have fought this terrible conflict for four and a quarter years, let it be a case of "down and out" with the Germans.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Wittenham in his effort to get more information from the Government as to what is to be done to prevent the influx of Germans into this country after the war. There is no doubt they will use every effort to come back here after the war. My noble friend Viscount Cave yesterday gave us some information of a most valuable character. He first of all told us that the Alien Immigration Bill was not of much use as it is, and he intends to propose that it shall be strengthened very drastically. He had very great difficulties in his position, owing principally, I believe, to one of his predecessors, who naturalised Germans, I think, to the number of 127 after the war, one of the notorious cases being that of Baron Schröder; and I think that at this moment there are something like 227 or 230 Germans who have been naturalised since the war started.

I called attention the other day in your Lordships' House to the Prime Minister's promise that he would stop "dumping," and I said that the real dumping to stop is the dumping of undesirable aliens into this country. It has affected our health, our morals, our lives altogether, and I do hope that steps will be taken after the war to stop these people coming into this country, and more particularly Germans. Last year I called your Lordships' attention to the fact that I once saw at a wharf two large liners. One was taking out of this country a large number of our best artisans; I think most of them came from Woolwich, when the number of men was being reduced there. The liner which was lying astern was putting into this country hundreds of the most undesirable people from all parts of Europe. That is what we have suffered from, and I hope the Government will see that we shall not suffer from it again.

With regard to this dumping, I was to-day sent a paper which showed what has happened. This paper is called Stubbs' Weekly Gazette, and the date is November 13. In it I find some twenty-three German-named people who have changed their names for English names, and most of them did so in September and October of this year. All of them have been allowed to change them this year by what is called Deed Poll. This is a very serious matter. I may be told that these are British subjects, but they are Germans. I do not know how many of them were naturalised after the war started; probably a good number. But anyway they are Germans, and if your Lordships will allow me I will show by their names that they must be Germans. There is a man call Braunchtein, who changed his name to Lloyd. Another was called Guggenheim; he changed his name to Guest—very satisfactory for the Whip in the other House! A man called McIlquham changed his name to Marshall; Sherer to Ward; Schlesinger to Owen; and Wagenhuizen to Wallace. I think those names are not Irish or English, and it is a very great danger to the State that these things should have happended this year, only a few months or weeks back.

I ask my noble friend if he will see that this is stopped for the future. I do not think the British public will at all take to the plea that these people are British subjects. They are British subjects, I know, but it should be impossible for men to change their names wholesale, as can be done now if a man can claim that he is a naturalised British subject. It may be said that some of the Royal Princes have changed their names. But certainly they have not been naturalised in the last two or three months. Therefore that is not an argument which would apply. I have had so many letters about the Royal Princes who have the honour of being in your Lordships' House that, though it does not seem to be a line of argument, I would like to take the opportunity of stating, in reference to the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Albany, that the circumstances of their being in your Lordships' House have been examined by a Committee, and that Committee reported in favour of their expulsion; and the Paper laid on the Table of the House has to lie there forty days. Unfortunately, the forty days will be up on Saturday after the Prorogation, so it will be another forty days before their names are expunged from the records of this House. It is necessary that the public should know this; anyway, it is necessary for me to state it, as I get so many letters, and I hope I shall not receive any more on the subject.

I ask my noble friend again what he is going to do about this German food-substitute expert in this country. I asked the question the other day, but I got no reply. In the Press there was a tremendous account of the value of this man. Surely now that the Germans have began to whimper about food we ought to send this man over to them. He will probably give all the people indigestion, but at any rate he should not be in this country; he ought to be over there. I hope that my noble friend Lord Cave will be able to tell us something very definite as to what the Government are going to do to prevent the influx of Germans after the war, because unless very stringent methods are adopted I am certain we shall have a very large number over here. The present state of public opinion about aliens is far stronger than your Lordships know. I think you will see that in every election address there will be a strong clause requiring that these aliens shall go. I think my noble friend told me the other day that the whole of the interned aliens—who must have been there for a crime; some crime must have been proved against them—are going to be repatriated. If that is so, it is a very great move in the right direction. If I am wrong, he will correct me. The first thing for us to do is to take care that these undesirable people are not admitted into this country after the war.


My Lords, this question was, as the noble Lord has said, discussed yesterday, and I then gave what I intended to be a full answer to the questions which were asked. I am not sure that I can add anything very substantial to-day, but I will certainly give such answer as I can. The Government, as I said yesterday, took the whole of this matter into consideration and referred it to a Committee, which reported some months ago. The Government then determined upon their action, and they have since been in process of carrying out the Report of that Committee. It is not always those who talk the loudest who are most effective in action, and I assure the House that we intend, not to talk and not to declaim against Germans with our mouth, but to act when we have marked out our line of action.

My reply is quite simple. A good many Germans are now interned in this country. Of course, we cannot send them home now, because the interned men are nearly all able-bodied men, who might, if they were sent home, be useful to our enemy. But when the war is over and peace is declared we propose to send those men home. That will be the general rule, and it will take a very strong case to induce the Government to keep any of them here. But it will be of no use to send them home it they can immediately return here. Accordingly we propose, as I said yesterday, to introduce at the earliest possible moment and in good time before the actual ratification of the Peace Treaty, a Bill which will give us the same power of exclusion in time of peace as we have to-day in time of war. That is absolute power of exclusion. We can to-day, if any foreigner proposes to land on our shores, forbid him to land. That, as the House knows, is constantly done, but that is at the moment a war power. We propose to make it a continuing power, exercisable also in time of peace. The method proposed will be to enable an order in Council to be made giving this and other powers to the Government of the day, and, as I also informed the House yesterday, we propose to take power to distinguish between the nationals of one country and the nationals of another, so that we should have the right to lay down special rules with regard to the admission of our enemies or ex-enemies to this country.

I cannot, of course, go further than that It is for the Government of that day to determine exactly what shall be done. I have gone perhaps further than it is usual to go in stating the contents of a Bill not yet introduced. But I am entitled to say that if I had my way I would allow no German to land in this country for a considerable time. That would be my view, and I have every hope that the Government of next year will take the view which I, and I think nearly all of us, take of it. At all events, let there be no ambiguity about my answer. We propose to take power which will enable the Government of the day to go to the full length I have described. I have, I hope, given a frank and full answer to the Question. I need not deal with the other points which my noble friend opposite referred to. He read a list of names. He knows very well how the question of names stands.

I have always held that the present free power to change your name by mere deed poll is wrong and ought to be limited. I think it is too easy in this country to change your name and take a name—perhaps an honoured name—to which you have no right at all. We could not, of course, make a change in the general law in time of war, but we have made two changes. We have forbidden an alien enemy to change his name at all, and we have forbidden everybody else, not a natural born British subject, to change his name without leave of the Secretary of State. Until now I have not given leave to a single person to change his name under the Regulations. Therefore, the position as it stands is that no one who is not a natural born British subject can change his name by deed poll or in any other way, except by Royal licence. That is the position to-day, and I am quite sure that the names with which my noble friend struggled so valiantly just now, although foreign in sound, must be the names of persons who have the good fortune to have been born in this country and who are, therefore, British subjects. I believe that in this matter a prohibition ought to exist which does not exist to-day, but that is a matter for future legislation.


I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his never-failing courtesy in answering my Question, and I welcome above all his unambiguous and absolute declaration that his own opinion—which carries great weight with a large number of people—is that no German should be allowed to land on these shores after the declaration of peace until, at any rate, the Germans are purged of their offences.

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