HC Deb 21 November 1938 vol 341 cc1313-7
6. Mr. Lipson

asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made by the International Commission set up after the Evian Conference to deal with the problem of refugees?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps my hon. Friend will be good enough to await the statements which will be made at the end of Question Time and during the course of this evening's Debate.


The Prime Minister

In conformity with the recommendations of the Evian meeting in July last, His Majesty's Government have had under constant examination the contribution which they could make, in respect of the United Kingdom and of the Colonial Empire, to the international effort to facilitate the admission and settlement of involuntary emigrants from Germany. They have also had in mind the view expressed by the Evian countries that the country of origin should make its contribution to this problem of migration by enabling intending emigrants to take with them their property and possessions. The extent to which countries can be expected to receive emigrants must depend very largely upon the conditions in which they are able to leave their country of origin. His Majesty's Government have been greatly impressed by the urgency of the problem created by the anxiety to migrate overseas of sections of the population in Germany and of individuals who, in consequence of recent events in that country, have found temporary asylum in countries of first refuge.

In the light of these circumstances and of the recommendations of the Evian meeting, His Majesty's Government have again reviewed the situation.

With regard to the United Kingdom, the number of refugees which Great Britain can agree to admit, either for a temporary stay or for permanent settlement, is limited by the capacity of the voluntary organisations dealing with the refugee problem to undertake the responsibility for selecting, receiving and maintaining a further number of refugees. His Majesty's Government are keeping in close touch with the Committee which has been set up to co-ordinate the activities of the voluntary organisations engaged upon this task. The United Kingdom has, since 1933, permitted about 11,000 men, women and children to land in this country, in addition to some 4,000 or 5,000 others who have since emigrated overseas.

As regards the Colonial Empire, it must be remembered that, although covering a great extent of territory, it is not necessarily capable of the immediate absorption of large numbers of refugees. Many of our Colonies and Protectorates and our Mandated Territories in East and West Africa contain native populations of many millions, for whom we are the trustees, and whose interests must not be prejudiced. Many large areas, which at present are sparsely populated, are unsuitable either climatically or economically for European settlement. The Colonial Governments could only co-operate in any schemes of large or small-scale settlement provided the schemes were formulated and carried out by responsible organisations.

As was indicated in this House by Lord Harlech on 30th March, and as was subsequently made clear by the United Kingdom representative of the Evian meeting, His Majesty's Government consider that there is no territory in the Colonial Empire where suitable land is available for the immediate settlement of refugees in large numbers, although in certain territories small-scale settlement might be practicable. The Governors of Tanganyika and British Guiana have, however, been asked to state whether, without detriment to native interests, land could be made available for leasing on generous terms for the purpose of large-scale settlement to the voluntary organisations concerned with refugees, provided they undertake full responsibility for the cost of preparing the land and of settling refugees of suitable types as the land is made available.

The Governor of Tanganyika has replied expressing his readiness to co-operate in any schemes of settlement of the refugees so far as existing obligations will permit. While he has not yet had an opportunity of consulting the Legislative Council, the Governor has expressed the view that the only suitable areas for large-scale settlement are likely to be found in the Southern Highlands and in a part of the Western Province, but a thorough investigation will be required before a definite indication of the available areas can be given. He would welcome a mission from the refugee organisations, and would readily give them all facilities for inspecting the areas and forming an opinion of the possibilities. The area that might be available comprises about 50,000 acres of land.

In addition, a scheme of small-scale settlement up to a total of 200 settlers is being considered.

A small experimental private scheme in Kenya, devised by one of the Jewish organisations in London, has been approved by the Governor after consultation with the Legislative Council, and young men who have undergone a course of training at one of the agricultural training centres established by Jewish organisations in Germany have already been selected for this scheme. These men will be settled on farms purchased by the Jewish organisations, after a further period of training in the Colony, and, if the scheme proves successful, they will be joined by other members of their families.

Inquiries have been made of the Governors of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland as to the possibility of small-scale settlement in those territories also, and I am glad to say that the replies received from both Governors indicate that this may be possible.

I turn now to British Guiana. In the interior of this Colony there are extensive tracts of sparsely occupied land, consisting mainly of forest and savannah. These areas include certain Indian reservations, but the Governor states that ample space is available to provide fully for all possible needs of the Indian tribes and still leave large areas worthy of examination as to their suitability for refugee settlement. Agricultural development of these areas has hitherto been prevented by unfavourable conditions and lack of communications. It would, therefore, be essential that careful surveys by experts should be made before any definite scheme can be formulated, and His Majesty's Government propose to invite the voluntary organisations to send out their own representatives as early as possible to conduct such surveys on the spot. They will be given all facilities for this purpose by the Colonial Government, and His Majesty's Government would also be ready to send out some experienced official to advise and co-operate with them. Provided that the results of the surveys are satisfactory, His Majesty's Government contemplate the lease of large areas of land on generous terms under conditions to be settled hereafter. It is not possible at this stage to give exact figures of the total area which could be made available to be leased for this purpose, but it would certainly not be less than 10,000 square miles, and possibly more.

Finally, I must mention Palestine. It is generally recognised that that small country could not in any case provide a solution of the Jewish refugee problem; but Palestine has been making its contribution. No less than 40 per cent. of the Jewish immigrants entering the country during the last 12 months have come from Germany.

His Majesty's Government hope that the other countries represented on the Intergovernmental Committee to continue and develop the work of the Evian meeting, will also endeavour to make what contribution they can to the urgent need of facilitating emigration from Germany and from the countries of first refuge.

In conclusion, I must emphasise that, however great may be our desire and that of other countries to assist in dealing with this grave situation, the possibilities of settlement are strictly limited.

Mr. Cocks

The right hon. Gentleman has said nothing about the Dominions.

The Prime Minister

No, I spoke only of conditions which we can control ourselves.

Mr. Lipson

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I ask whether the Government will be willing to consider favourably the admission into this country of young children from Germany, who will not be competing in the labour market?

The Prime Minister

We shall be having a Debate on this subject later in the day, and perhaps the matter could be discussed then.

Mr. Sandys

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say what plans there are to cover the intermediate period while the final plans are being made?

The Prime Minister

That, also, might be discussed to-night.

Sir Percy Hurd

Are any approaches being made to the German Government by the Powers unitedly in order to induce them to facilitate the exodus of these people?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows that approaches have been made.

Miss Rathbone

Would the Government not consider the possibility of granting a revolving loan for the maintenance of these refugees, in view of the fact that private organisations might not have the money?

The Prime Minister

That would be a little premature at this stage.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is the area of 10,000 square miles in British Guiana the same as that considered by the League of Nations for Assyrian settlement three years ago, and condemned?

The Prime Minister

It includes that area, but it also includes other areas besides.

Mr. Burke

With regard to young children, if there are persons in this country who will undertake the responsibility for them and for their education, will the Home Office grant facilities for their speedy admission?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will deal with that this afternoon.

Mr. Levy

May I thank the Government for their interest in this matter?