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Congress, Sheffield (Admission Of Foreigners)

Volume 480: debated on Friday 17 November 1950

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12.50 p.m.

I feel sure that if it had been possible to put on the Order Paper anything which would have given hon. Members notice of the subject which I would like to raise now, we should have a larger attendance in the House at this moment. It is, of course, one of the great virtues of the procedure of raising matters on the Adjournment that if, with luck, the other business of the House is dealt with quickly, hon. Members have an opportunity of raising urgent matters very quickly and very soon after they first become known. That has been so in this case.

The matter which I want to bring before the House now only came to my knowledge a little more than 12 hours ago. Earlier than that, on Tuesday last, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) raised the general question of the action of the Home Secretary in excluding certain persons from this country in connection with the so-called peace conference at Sheffield. He, too, raised this on the spur of the moment. I then, owing to arrangements which I could not escape, had to be in the position of many hon. Members of this House at this moment, namely, an absentee. Therefore I want to make it perfectly clear that after reading the debate which then took place, I am in entire agreement with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and his supporters, and in entire agreement with the letter written to the "Manchester Guardian" by Mr. Victor Gollancz—I think it was yesterday, but it may have been the day before—and I am in entire disagreement with the general line of argument offered by the Home Secretary in answer to those arguments.

Nevertheless, for the purpose of the matter which I am raising now, I am prepared to accept the arguments offered by the Home Secretary, and what I want to ask is whether they have been properly applied in the particular instance of a considerable number of American citizens who arrived in this country by aeroplane on the night of 11th-12th November. I think that it is right to recall the general principle on which the Home Secretary said that he was acting, and I think it is best stated in the statement which he made to the House at the end of Questions on 14th November, 1950. He said:
"As I informed the House on 19th October, the policy was to consider applications for entry on their individual merits, but to reserve the right to exclude any foreigner who was persona non grata."
Then he quoted from the speech made by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a speech to the Foreign Press Association these words:
"… we are not willing to throw wide our doors to those who seek to come here to subvert our institutions, to seduce our fellow citizens from their natural allegiance and their daily duties and to make propaganda for those who call us cannibals and warmongers.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1562–3.]
These are the principles, and I think that they are wrong; I think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne in his objection to them was right. But let us take this argument on the basis that these are the principles which we are working on. The very fact that the Home Secretary used these words in describing his principle makes much more serious what has actually happened.

An aeroplane came from America with intent to land in Paris. Those on board intended thereafter to come by ship to this country in order to take part in this alleged peace conference. As it was approaching Europe, it was reported that all the French airports were fogbound, and therefore in the interests of the safety of passengers and crew, this aeroplane put down at London Airport. That, I understand, was in the night, but the Under-Secretary, I think, is better informed on this than I am. I think that it put down somewhere about midnight.

On board this aeroplane there were some 25 Americans and, it may be, some Canadian citizens as well. One of these was the Rev. Willard Uphaus, who is personally known to me. He had brought over to this country in earlier years on one visit at least, and it may have been two, a party of religious teachers, and, I think, Christian trade union organisers. These people gathered together in an organisation operating in the United States known as the National Religion and Labor Foundation. These people under the leadership and guidance—I think that "convenership" would be a rather clumsy but quite accurate word—of Mr. Willard Uphaus have been entertained in this House by hon. Members and I think by Members of another place as well. They talked to us and discussed problems with us.

It may have been a little naïve of my friend Mr. Uphaus to think that he was coming to a conference at which there would be quite free discussion with no commitments in advance, but I am quite sure that all my colleagues who have met Mr. Uphaus and the friends who came with him are absolutely certain of their complete democratic bona fides; absolutely certain that they are not agents, stooges, dupes or anything else of the Cominform or anything like it. I have a very high respect for Mr. Uphaus and for his integrity.

I want to read a few passages from the personal letter which he sent to me. It says:
"I ached all over to get in touch with you by phone"—
Perhaps it was a little optimistic to think that he would get in touch with me by phone after landing at midnight on the 11th November, but he says:
"Of course, we were not permitted to contact anyone."
I think that statement in itself is extremely serious. If people were at the airport for some five hours, and if it is true that during all that time they were not allowed to go to the phone to try to get in touch with any of their friends here, I think that is a very serious state of affairs.

Will my hon. Friend tell me if this reverend gentleman made a request that he should be allowed to consult a British Member of Parliament by phone and that it was refused?

All I have is his letter. He says:

"I ached all over to get in touch with you."
If I ache all over to get in touch with someone, I usually ask the people preventing me from doing so to allow me to do it. I think that it is a natural assumption that he did ask someone to allow him to get in touch with a Member of Parliament. He said:
"We were severely grilled."
I do not want to read the letter in full, but perhaps I may be allowed to read this:
"I came through the questioning easily for I told of my previous visit and of my connection with the National Religion and Labor Foundation."
It appears that he himself was not subjected to any long or aggressive cross-examination, and he must be speaking in relation to his colleague when he says that "We were severely grilled." There is a further sentence:
"We could not help but believe, during the long interval of waiting, that the British authorities were in contact with our State Department, and that the long finger of America was in the pie."
That is all that I want to read from the personal letter which I have from my friend.

I now want to read a few sentences from a cyclostyled document which accompanied that letter. Those whose names are signed at the bottom of it are quite unknown to me personally, but I can only take it that my friend would not have enclosed this document unless he was prepared to vouch for its accuracy. This is what it says:
"If it had been considered that we had not yet arrived on English soil"—
simply because they landed here, not because it was their booked destination, but because of reasons of safety and fog—
"If it had been considered that we had not yet arrived on English soil, we could have left after refuelling, but passports were seized, questions were asked, private papers were searched, and unwelcome advice against the Second World Peace Congress was given, without any warrants being issued. The American delegation was kept waiting more than five hours under strict surveillance of officers from Scotland Yard, a practical condition of arrest, although all Americans were equipped with passports accredited by the State Department of the United States. The American delegation was finally ordered to leave for Paris immediately and not to return. Although asked for, no reason was given for this drastic and tragic action."
This letter is signed by a number of people whose names I should like to give in connection with the definition of the Home Secretary in quoting the Prime Minister's speech in regard to those who were to be excluded.

I know nothing about these people, except that they came in company with my friend Mr. Willard Uphaus, and because of that I do not believe that Mr. Dudley H. Burr, Pastor at Hartford Congregational Church, Conn., came here to subvert our institutions. I do not believe that Mrs. Helen Johnson, Chairman of the Massachusett Minute Women for Peace, Boston, came here to seduce our fellow citizens from their natural allegiance and duty. I do not believe that Mrs. Theresa Robinson, a member of the International Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, had come here to make propaganda for those who call us cannibals and warmongers. I am certain that my friend Mr. Uphaus also does not deserve any of these strictures.

Because the Under-Secretary of State has been good enough to have a word with me about this a few moments ago, I understand that he is not going to make out a case that these people are reprehensible characters, but that the unexpected arrival of this small community threw those concerned into a difficult situation, and that these people who arrived after the conference had been transferred from Sheffield to Warsaw were given an opportunity in a very gentlemanly manner to leave by plane for Paris in order to go on to the new seat of the conference. I shall be very glad to hear that made public. I hope that, as a result of what I have said and what my hon. Friend will say, there will be no grounds in America for thinking that any of these people have come under the condemnation of the British Home Office.

I want my hon. Friend to deal with one or two questions of fact. The short extracts I have read from these letters indicate that these people were treated in a way that they should not have been treated. They say that they were ordered to leave for Paris immediately and not to return. If these facts are in conflict with the facts as supplied to the Under-Secretary by the airport officials, or any other people concerned, I want to ask him whether he will agree in principle that representatives of this group of Americans, if they are willing to do so, should be admitted to this country so that an inquiry can be held to find whose version of the facts is correct.

Quite apart from the general principles of who should be admitted and who should not be admitted, it is of the utmost importance that any examinations which are necessary should be conducted with the maximum possible courtesy, consideration and explanation, and that people should not be subject to such re- strictions as being prevented from ringing up Members of Parliament. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that, if it is the desire of people in this group to come to this country, they will be allowed to do so, and that there will be an inquiry as to whether their version of the facts is correct. If it is shown to be correct, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel—I am not asking for an undertaking—that there are grounds for very severe criticism and perhaps of disciplinary action against those responsible.

1.6 p.m.

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) for raising this matter. I make no apology for returning to the subject that was discussed on the Adjournment on Tuesday. The gravamen of the charge against the Home Secretary is not that he did what he did intentionally, but that he has opened a wide gate to the methods of the so-called Communist police States. What he has also done, incidentally, is to make us supremely ridiculous in the eyes of intelligent and liberty-loving people in the world who are as much opposed to Communism as he or any other Member of the House. What he has done will percolate through, not only to the United States, but to France, Italy and all the other countries from which these delegates came to attend these conferences.

The case my hon. Friend brought to the attention of the House has also reached me indirectly. It is certain to cause a great deal of comment throughout America, where these matters are discussed in very great detail. I first heard of the case of these 30 American citizens from a friend of mine who also came across to attend this conference as an observer. He is the Rev. John Paul Jones, of Brooklyn, who is a well-known and respected figure in the religious life of America. No one will accuse him of being a subversive Communist. I hardly think that the American police would have allowed, or connived in sending of, any of their citizens to this country if they thought they were subversive elements.

I raised the question of the Rev. John Paul Jones at Questions yesterday, but the Question was not reached and I have received a written reply. The question I asked, with the answer, is this:
"MR. EMRYS HUGHES asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how long the Reverend John Paul Jones, of Brooklyn, United States of America, who wished to attend the Sheffield peace congress, was detained by his officers for questioning; and what was the nature of the interrogation.
MR. EDE: It was made clear to the organisers of the Congress that delegates would not be admitted before 11th November, unless the travel facilities available did not allow them to arrive on this date, and that foreigners would not be admitted in advance in order to organise the Congress. The Reverend John Paul Jones arrived at London Airport on 10th November and was interviewed by the Immigration Officer at 10.30 a.m., and questioned for some 15 minutes in order to establish his status. After reference to the Home Office he was given leave to land at 11.45 a.m."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 198–9.]
He was slightly more fortunate than the ministers to whom my hon. Friend referred. It is interesting to fill in the picture. The Rev. John Paul Jones had other business in this country. He could have got past the immigration officers without saying that he was an observer at this conference. When he was asked whether he was coming to Britain on business or for a vacation, he said, quite honestly, "Both." In order not to be misunderstood, he added that he was also going as an observer to the Sheffield Peace Congress. The immigration officer then said, "We shall have to see about this. Will you kindly sit in the next room?"

His passport was taken from him. After he had been there for a quarter of an hour, he thought he would like to telephone someone in this country. He asked the immigration officer whether he would be allowed to telephone his friend—myself. As soon as the Member for South Ayrshire was mentioned, there was a sudden change in the atmosphere. The immigration officers decided that they would get in touch with the Home Office, with the result that within a quarter of an hour he was told he could come into the country. Apparently, the fact that he knew a Member of the House of Commons who was capable of raising the matter on the Floor of the House was enough to put the fear of God into the Home Office. The Home Office decided to recognise that the Rev. John Paul Jones was a sort of innocent political simpleton, something like the Member he knew in this country.

But what about the unfortunate people who could not contact a Member of Parliament and give the impression to the Home Office that their actions would be subject to that criticism and inquiry which it is most essential for this House to retain? I have a few cases to show that the people who were able to put their grievance to those who could take notice of them were received with courtesy, but that a good many of the other cases where this could not be done came under the heading of subversive people.

I want to deal, not only with those who came from the United States, but with some cases from France. I hope we shall get some enlightenment on some of these cases. I know that I cannot expect my hon. Friend to go into all the details, but it is absolutely essential that it should be shown that the one thing we intend to fight in this country is the methods of the Gestapo, the O.G.P.U. and the police State, or whatever the name may be under which it appears in this country.

I should like to know what line of demarcation the Home Secretary drew in the case of the delegates from France or Italy. He told the House of Commons last week, in an attempt to justify his position, that what he had done was to divide the so-called dangerous people who could organise subversive action from the so-called innocent people. He said he sought to protect the sheep from the shepherd, and to do that he called in the goats. I am not at all sure that he did not call in the wolves.

France sent certain delegates to this country, and I presume that the counterpart of the Home Secretary in France knows the so-called dangerous persons as well as does the administrative apparatus of the Home Secretary. On Monday evening I was surprised to receive a green House of Commons card asking me to meet a gentleman whom I knew in France and whom I met a fortnight ago in Paris. He is a member of the Assemblée Nationale, a French Member of Parliament. At one time he was a member of the French aristocracy—he was a count—and I do not know whether they looked up his past in the French Debrett. I do not know if that was why he was treated with such extraordinary respect. Many years ago he dissociated himself from his title and now he seems to be almost insulted if one recalls the fact that he was a member of the French aristocracy.

He sent for me on Monday—the first count I have ever received in the House of Commons—and he told me a remarkable story of how, as far as the French were concerned, they had divided the sheep from the shepherd, for it appears that some of the people who were refused permission to land are people who are no nearer the Communist Party in France than is the Home Secretary. I want to know whether we can discover some facts about the dividing line between the people from France who were supposed to be dangerous and those who were not supposed to be dangerous. I want to know why M. Chamberun, a deputy, was refused admission while Mr. Gilbert E. Chambrun, a gentleman of the same name, was admitted. Then there is the case of Madame Dupont Delestraint, who is the daughter of the general who was the first chief of the secret Army of Resistance under General de Gaulle and whose father was shot by the Germans. I do not know why it was thought that she was dangerous, but the agents of the Home Office said, "This lady is dangerous and cannot come into the country."

Imagine the result this will have upon enlightened opinion in France. Imagine the laughter, the ridicule and jocularity with which they will refer to the Home Office of England in the Lobbies of the Assembly when the news reaches them of who was admitted and who was not. There was a distinguished lady journalist who arrived in this country along with the suite of the President of the French Republic when he was entertained in this House. I believe that she, too, was entertained in the House when we gave the reception to the President of France. This lady was not considered dangerous when she came in the suite of the President of France, but she was considered too dangerous to be allowed to spend last week-end in this country.

Another who was not admitted was M. D'Astier, the first Minister of Interior under General de Gaulle. Another was Minister of Supplies in 1946. Even M. Pierre Cot, ex-Minister for Air, a Republican and Progressive Deputy of the Assembly Generale, was refused admission.

Can we have some facts about these cases? Here is a distinguished and well- known personality in the public life of Europe, M. Pierre Cot. How can it be explained to public opinion in France that we considered this gentleman a danger to the people of this country when, apparently, the French Government were prepared to allow him to travel? I suggest that when this percolates to France, Italy, and to the other countries in Europe who sent people here, either as observers or as delegates, we shall appear supremely ridiculous.

I shall not go further. Those are the facts which have just begun to come through to us and I have no doubt at all that, when the facts which have reached my hon. Friend and myself are known in detail, they will justify the very scathing remarks which were made in the "Manchester Guardian" in criticism of the Home Secretary. When I asked the Home Secretary about this, he was very jocular; he made some humorous asides and evaded the point entirely. I asked him about the comments of the "Manchester Guardian" and he said something to the effect that it was like an ancient grandmother reproving a grandniece about the facts of life. Of course, the House laughed, but that answer did not meet the point; it was no attempt to answer the criticism of the "Manchester Guardian."

When I pressed the right hon. Gentleman further he produced a letter from the correspondence columns of the "Manchester Guardian" in order to reply to that paper's editorial column. He read out certain criticisms of the police State in Communist countries, with which most of us will agree, and then he roused a great laugh by saying that the letter was written by Mr. Zilliacus. Mr. Zilliacus has been in and has gone from this House; he has been thrown out of the House and out of the Labour Party. Yet the Home Secretary's case against the "Manchester Guardian" is so weak that he has to drag in, as witness, someone who was expelled from the Labour Party.

Although I disagreed with Mr. Zilliacus on many occasions when he addressed the House, and do not agree with some parts of his general outlook, yet I regret his disappearance because he contributed something individual in the way of independent criticism in this House. But he was thrown out of the House and was in the outer darkness until the Home Secretary said, "Listen to what Mr. Zilliacus says about the police State."

I want to read to the House the main point of criticism made in that article of the "Manchester Guardian"—and nobody will accuse that newspaper of being in any way an organ of fellow travellers, Communists, or of people who seek to undermine the liberties of this country. This criticism should be on record and somebody should attempt to answer it. No one has yet found the answer. The leader writer said:
"After the way in which Mr. Ede's secret agents have interrogated some scores of foreigners at points of landing and sent them back home, his words do not ring true."
All the jocularities and the little quips which amused the House did not reply to that.
"All these Frenchmen, Spaniards and the rest are not likely to share his belief that this is a country of freedom and Mr. Ede has made it plain that he is really afraid of people seeing how we live."
Whether that is the Home Secretary's intention or not, the fact remains that that will be the impression of the more than 30 people to whom he referred and the opinion of innumerable people who may be classed, roughly, as Left-Wing progressive intelligentsia in a very large number of countries of Europe. The article went on to say:
"It is difficult to recall any precedent in our history for such an adoption on British soil of the methods of the Communist Police States. The one thing that we had hoped distinguished us from the Police States was that we were not afraid of people seeing how we are living while they tremble in suspicious fear. Now we, too, have thrown up something like their police apparatus and interrogation by a horde of secret agents whose methods must, like theirs, necessarily be clumsy and unjust. The stultification of the Sheffield Congress is nothing to be sorry about; the tricks by which we secured it and the British Government's illiberal panic are a blow to the little that remains of freedom in the world."
It is because we believe in freedom in the world, in the real sense of that fundamental idea, that we are seizing every possible occasion to bring the glare of publicity to the methods of our own secret police. I know it will be said, and rightly so, that neither the Home Secretary nor the Under-Secretary have the point of view of the totalitarian police chiefs, but they have to be very careful that the apparatus they are creating does not become a sinister Frankenstein in our life which, in turn, may have effects which they do not contemplate at present.

I believe that so long as the Home Secretary and Under-Secretary are there, and so long as the present Government are there, there will be some attempt to carry out the administration of justice in this country in a way which will differentiate it from the methods of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, but the time may come—I will not say that it will come; I hope it will not—when there will be a different kind of Home Secretary and a different attitude towards political refugees.

What I fear is that the time may come when there will be a Conservative Home Secretary who may carry these methods a little further. Then he would be able to say that glorious word which is so often used in the House, a word which we kneel down to and worship—"precedent." He could say that there was a precedent in an earlier debate. We might be fighting against a much greater effort to subvert our liberties, when a Conservative Home Secretary—when we on this side might be in the minority—might say, "Look up HANSARD of such and such a date. Look at the speech that was delivered, the arguments that were produced, and the point of view and the assurances given by a Socialist Home Secretary." That is the danger.

There is grave danger that in this country, as a result of the cold war, we are creating a new vested interest—a new secret police vested interest—perhaps unconsciously, but certainly the apparatus is there. It must have taken a very large and elaborate organisation to carry out these so-called screening operations of the type that were conducted last week-end. I fear very much that if we create an apparatus of this kind, whether it is called M.I.5, Scotland Yard, the political police or the special police, we are putting men into jobs whose duty it will be to discover conspiracies, to exaggerate what may happen, and, ultimately, to find things in order to keep themselves in their particular jobs.

It is very essential that the voice of liberty should be heard on every possible occasion, because we do not want to see a duplication, as we have seen in so many other countries, of the suppression of liberties and of the freedom to discuss and to think openly, which, happily, have been the great traditions and boast of our people.

1.32 p.m.

A great deal of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) would have been unnecessary had he realised that the 33 Americans in the aircraft which we are discussing were not refused permission to land. On the general question of men and women coming from France, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has fully covered this in Question and answer and in debate in the House, and I have nothing to add. Nor, without notice—I do not think my hon. Friend would expect it of me without notice—can I discuss the particular events connected with his friends in France, whether aristocrats or not.

This party of 33 Americans arrived at London Airport in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, 12th November. Their aircraft was a charter machine going from Montreal to Orly, in France, but owing to stress of weather it had to come down in England. Consider the position in the early hours of a Sunday morning at an airport when an unexpected, unscheduled party of Americans arrives. Of course, they have to be interrogated by the immigration staff who are present.

The party arrived shortly after midnight at about 12.15 a.m. The interrogation obviously would take some time. A skeleton staff is always present, and there is also a skeleton staff at that hour at the Home Office, and the references necessary to find out about these Americans would obviously take time. It is not as if the so-called peace committee had sent us in advance a list of the Americans who were coming, as we had received in advance a list of many other national parties—for instance, the Dutch party of 50, whose names we were given; as soon as the list had been examined, we knew that we could admit 47 and not three. In that case there was no delay.

Some of the Americans who arrived had passports which were restricted by the American authorities to the British Isles and France. When they arrived, they were told that the conference was now to be held in Poland. I ask hon. Members to picture the conditions at an airport at that hour in the morning, when an unscheduled party of 33 arrives without any advance notice and with nothing beyond their passports. There is also the fact—and this is relevant to the letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) received—that the men, and women if there were any, in the party were naturally disgruntled at having to come down in England after what must have been an unpleasant flight. Some of them, I am told, were not very co-operative; they were annoyed to learn that the conference was to be held in Poland and not in Sheffield; so that what was quite legitimate interrogation may well have assumed in their minds the aspect of severe grilling. It is right that the immigration officers should find out all about them, and this they did.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend admitted that he had given me very short notice of this debate, but so far as I know at present, none of the party asked to get in touch with anyone to vouch for them. I stress, because this point has been raised, that of course we have regard to representations made by citzens of this country on behalf of aliens who are coming here. My hon. Friend announced only a few days ago in the House that a certain bishop had been granted a visa after a representation from bishops in this country. I might add that my right hon. Friend denied privately that Picasso had come here after representations from the Royal Academy.

It was not a question of consultation. My hon. Friend would not expect that we could build up a system by which when people arrive they were put into certain categories, and that if an eminent gardener, for instance, were to arrive, we should consult the Royal Horticultural Society. Such a system is not likely to be devised, but we listen, and rightly so, to representations which are made by eminent bodies or people.

Let me come to the essential point. Between 12.15 and 3.30 a.m.—it may seem a long time to us here, but I have described the conditions at the airport—these Americans were being asked what was the purpose of their visit, who they were, and so on; we were finding out all we could about them. At 3.30 a.m. the captain of the aircraft decided that the weather was then good enough for them to fly on to France. He told this to the airport authorities, and the immigration officers stopped their checking or interrogation. For technical reasons, concerned no doubt, with refuelling or some other form of maintenance or the weather conditions, the aircraft did not leave until shortly after 5 o'clock.

A definite statement has been quoted in a letter by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend that this party of 33 Americans was ordered to go to France and not to return. That seems extraordinarily unlike the behaviour of an immigration officer, because these officers are very well versed in the law relating to immigration and cannot tell an alien not to return here. They cannot say that and then order a man into an aircraft. An immigration officer can order an alien not to enter the country but he cannot prejudice a further visit by that same alien. If any of these men were again to present themselves at a port their admission would always be considered in the light of the circumstances of the time. What I am sure happened was that no-one objected to going on to France. I have already said that no one was refused leave to land, and I hope that on consideration my hon. Friend who raised this matter will acquit my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary from any blame in this matter.

I had hoped that in his reply my hon. Friend would show that the fact that these people were, according to his statement, given the opportunity of going on to Paris as soon as the weather was fit for travel, indicates that in the view of the Home Office none of them came under the castigation contained in the speech of the Prime Minister, from which the Home Secretary quoted in defence of his own policy. I was hoping for an indication from my hon. Friend that these people had not, so to speak, been judged by the British authorities and found guilty within those terms.

That is perfectly correct, because none of them had been refused leave to land. The investigations concerning these 33 people were not complete when the time arrived that the captain of the aircraft decided they could go on to Paris.