Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £259,087, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st clay of March, 1939, for the expenses in connection with His Majesty's Embassies, Missions and Consular Establishments Abroad, and other expenditure chargeable to the Consular Vote; certain special grants and payments, including grants-in-aid; and sundry services arising out of the war.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)
It will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we consider the two Votes with which I have to deal, each under its own head. I am not quite clear whether we are to consider first the Foreign Office Vote and then to take the Vote for Diplomatic and Consular Services.
We shall take first the Vote for the Diplomatic and Consular Services. The Foreign Office comes under a separate Vote later on.
§ Mr. Butler
The Diplomatic and Consular Services Vote, as the Committee will see, is under a great many heads relating to matters of considerable interest. I shall attempt to describe the contents of the Vote according to the several different heads. The first head may be taken to cover questions arising out of the ordinary Diplomatic and Consular Services, including several special missions and services, and might include Votes C, L, P, Q, KK, MM, and the British Legion Contingent grant under YY. That is one heading. The second heading, "News and Propaganda," would cover Votes K and N. The third heading includes two Votes on Spain to deal with the Non-intervention Committee and the withdrawal of volunteers; that is items PP and TT. The last heading which my remarks will follow 1946 will cover humanitarian questions under SS, WW, XX and ZZ. I adopt that procedure because otherwise we should be jumping from one head to another and the discussion might be very difficult to follow.
To deal first with the heading C, "Journeys on the Public Service": For journeys on the public service there was a provision of £26,000 originally, based on the experience Of normal requirements, and this particular additional sum of £6,000 reflects the increased activity of Diplomatic and Consular officers due to the highly disturbed political conditions of last year. There are no particular features under this heading and I can pass to head L, Special Missions and Services, of which there are a good many subheads. The first sub-head is an extra amount of £1,300 wanted for the payment of the commercial mission in Spanish territories under the authority of General Franco. This refers to Sir Robert Hodgson, who was appointed in order to keep contact, in this commercial mission, with the Franco authorities. I should like to pay atribute to the work that Sir Robert Hodgson has done. He had already had a distinguished career before he went to Burgos, and I know it will be agreed that the contact which he was able to establish and the respect in which he was held by those authorities were extremely valuable in the circumstances of the time. The original Estimate has been exceeded by this sum of £1,300, and it covers, of course, the cost of Sir Robert Hodgson's salary, and that of his assistants, typists, servants, and so forth.
The next sub-heading is a provision for gas masks for the British civilian community in Egypt. This payment has to be made in order to reimburse the sum paid to provide gas masks for this community. The justification of these Estimates is based simply on the ground of the very special position in Egypt, its strategic importance and the necessity for providing those there with gas masks. I understand that the masks are being held in storage by the British military authorities and that arrangements for their distribution in an emergency are in hand. The next head is payment of British observers in Czecho-Slovakia, a sum of £4,000. I shall sum up the position for the convenience of Members. There were originally two observers sent 1947 in June of last year, Mr. Henderson and Major Sutton-Pratt. On 27th September it was decided that more should be sent, and six or more were sent on 30th September, which made up a total of eight or nine to form a band of observers. Shortly after that steps were taken to recruit 40 additional observers to form a larger body that would be in a position to exercise a calming and valuable influence in preventing the occurrence of unfortunate incidents. The International Commission set up under the Munich Agreement, after some discussion agreed that the observers should be placed under its orders. They were, therefore, utilised by the International Commission, and in accordance with Section 3 of the Munich Agreement their services were used during the evacuation of the Sudeten areas. This evacuation was carried out smoothly, and in view of the feeling of tension which prevailed before, great credit is reflected on all concerned, and I think we ought to pay a tribute to the work which the British observers gave in this connection.
§ Mr. Mander
The right hon. Gentleman says that the evacuation was carried out smoothly, but is it not a fact that tens of thousands of refugees poured in terror over the frontier?
§ Mr. Butler
I have said, and other speakers have said on behalf of the Government in the past, that there have been certain difficulties over this delicate and indeed dangerous operation, and the fact that it was carried out comparatively without incident is due to the calming influence exercised by the observers at that time. I am not going to deny that refugees crossed the frontier or that there were serious difficulties, but I think that without the observers the difficulties would have been worse.
§ Mr. Benn
The whole purpose of this £4,000 relates to these observers. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Committee will be entitled to ask in connection with this item what the observers reported as to the conditions? We were told that with the entry of the German troops arrived the Gestapo, who 1948 proceeded to deal with certain people. That must have been noted by the observers. This is the proper time for the Committee to inquire into these matters.
§ Mr. Butler
I have told the right hon. Gentleman that I have no report of that nature which I can give to the Committee. I will continue my story, therefore, describing the work which the observers did in extremely difficult circumstances.
§ Mr. Ridley
Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean to say that the Government do not know what the observers observed? Do they not know what the observers saw in regard to the operation of Clause 7 of the agreement?
§ Mr. Butler
These observers were sent for the purpose of watching and, by the calming influence they were able to exert, preventing unpleasant incidents arising. It is a little too much to expect the Government to lay a series of reports from observers who were appointed for a purpose which they most admirably discharged. We have our own missions abroad and we have our own reports from those countries. While I respect the wish of the right hon. Gentleman to obtain, as he is entitled to, every possible piece of information, I am afraid that I cannot add any more to what I have said on this heading.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
This matter is one which affects our own British interests in a most intimate manner. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the observers reported anything about the evacuation of the Czecho-Slovak army when they left the territory? It was their duty to supervise that evacuation. Can he say whether it is true, as was reported, that 1,200 pieces of heavy artillery were kept by the Germans and moved to the Western front?
§ Mr. Butler
I ask the hon. Member to put himself in the position in which I stand on this question. We recruited a certain number of observers. It was not within their competence to present to us reports which could be more suitably sent by our military attacés. As the hon. Member knows, our missions abroad have military attaches. I think I can tell him that it is not in the public interest that we should publish reports that we receive from our military attachés.
§ Mr. Benn rose——
§ Mr. Butler
I have really given way quite a number of times and there are many other items on which I might be up and down the whole time. The Government are fully informed on these matters, which are confidential.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am very reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman but I must point out that it cannot be confidential whether or not the evacuation of the Czecho-Slovak army was carried out in conditions foreseen by the Munich Agreement. It was never proposed under the Munich Agreement that Czechoslovakia should not be able to take their armaments with them back into Czechoslovakia. As those observers went for the purpose of seeing that those evacuations were carried out smoothly, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and in accordance with the provisions of the Munich Agreement, surely they must have reported whether the armaments were taken or not. Surely that is a point on which the committee that authorised the expenditure of this public money has a right to information.
§ Mr. Butler
I told the hon. Gentleman that I was serving the Committee to the best of my ability, and that I have no report on this matter that I can give to the Committee. The next item deals with the exchange of prisoners in Spain. The Committee will appreciate that this is the work of which Field-Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode was in charge. I should like to pay a tribute to the work which he has done and to the esteem in which he has been held by both sides in Spain. One of the early achievements of the Commission was to bring to a successful conclusion in extremely difficult circumstances the negotiations which had been proceeding between both parties for an exchange of refugees at the Cuban Embassy at Madrid, and which were on the point of breaking down. The Commission furthermore succeeded in acquiring from the ex-Spanish Government certain promises of clemency. It is due to the work of the Commission that the reprisals, which at one time provided a severe outlook, were avoided. The sum of £3,800 which we are asked to vote for this Commission is proved to have been very worth while spending.
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether similar 1950 arrangements were made about reprisals from General Franco?
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that it would not be in order to do so on this Vote. I am describing the work of the Commission and the arrangements for the exchange of prisoners in Spain, and am not describing the policy in relation to recent events with respect to General Franco.
I was not referring to-recognition of General Franco. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the success of the Commission in securing from the Republican Government an arrangement about no reprisals; did they secure similar promises from the other side?
§ Mr. Butler
I can at once assure the hon. Lady that the communications of the Commission were with both sides, and that care was taken to get assurances from both sides. I regret to say that the exchange of prisoners has not been on a large scale. There have been various forms of exchange of prisoners through various agencies, but this particular agency has not been responsible for a large scale number of prisoners. That is why, in stressing the achievements of the Commission, I indicated certain highlights rather than gave figures and numbers.
There is a positive spate of questions. We must give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to go on with his speech.
§ Mr. Butler
The next item is with regard to Lord Runciman's mission to Prague, for which we are asking the sum of £1,700. The Committee will remember the circumstances in which Lord Runciman, accompanied by a small staff consisting of Mr. Peto, Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin of the Foreign Office, Mr. Stopford of the Treasury, and Mr. Henderson, formerly His Majesty's Consul at Innsbruck, went to Prague for the purposes of this mission. The sum of £1,700 is required for travelling and hotel expenses of Lord Runciman and his staff, and the salaries of those of his staff who were temporarily engaged. This is a comparatively small sum, compared 1951 with some other sub-headings, in view of the excellent services of Lord Runciman at that time.
The next item relates to the Commission on Aerial Bombardments in Spain. The constitution of that commission was suggested by the late Spanish Ambassador in London. He suggested that an international commission should be set up to report on aerial bombardments in Spain. We made every effort to secure the adhesion to this commission of other Governments, but for various reasons, as I have told the House and now tell the Committee, those other Governments refused to co-operate, with the result that in the end His Majesty's Government by themselves sent a commission to report on aerial bombardments in Spain. The commission proceeded to Toulouse and was ready for its work on 1st September last. Since that date they have issued seven reports, including accounts of bombardments of Alicante, Figuer as, Barcelona and Tarragona. The sole concern of His Majesty's Government has been with the machinery of producing those reports. I would make it clear to the Committee that the reports themselves are the responsibility of the commission. While I was at Geneva I was able to hear testimony paid by Signor del Vayo to the work contained in these reports. He paid a tribute to the impartial and thorough manner in which the two officers concerned had done their work. I should like to add my own tribute, because it is now proposed by His Majesty's Government that this commission should be disbanded.
The next sub-head which I suggested we should take was P, relating to office expenses and fee allowances. Since the Estimate was prepared, in November, 1937, there has been a large increase in the consular office expenses in Vienna, as a result of the disappearance of the Legation. Additional expenditure has been necessitated, too, for various office staffs by the rush of visa work, because of the requirement of visas on German passports, and owing, in the second place, to the situation of the Jews. It is not surprising that there has been an increase in the amount necessary.
The next item relates to outfits, travelling and special services, extra expenditure which is almost entirely attributable to the highly disturbed political conditions 1952 which have obtained. In consequence of those unusual conditions, there has been a series of moves and therefore an increase in allowances and so forth. This amount covers the disturbances and displacements due to the wars in Spain and China, which have resulted in a good many emergency journeys. Similarly, the crisis of last September resulted in a good many journeys in Europe. The next heading relates to telegrams, which has naturally been very heavy. I have made inquiries in the Department and I find that the utmost care is being exercised in the despatch of telegrams, and that verbosity is not being encouraged. Nevertheless, it is important to make one's meaning clear. The result is, naturally, to give rise to this increased amount. I would draw attention also to the system by which the sending of telegrams by bag is encouraged, and therefore the need for their reception over wires or by wireless is rendered less. Similarly, in order to be sure that public money is not wasted, there have been issued as lately as June last circulars reminding the heads of missions overseas of the need for economy in telegraphing.
The next heading is MM, "Passport visa control abroad." There has naturally been, in Germany in particular, as a result of the revised visa requirements and of a mass of Jewish refugees seeking information and assistance, a very great extra strain imposed upon our Consular officers abroad, and this extra money is needed by reason of the increased work. I have been making inquiries from those who control these services, and I know that our passport control offices in Central Europe have, during the past 12 months, been beseiged by refugees desiring to be sent to parts of the British Empire, asking question on the prospects of emigration and countless questions as to how they could secure a future for themselves. During the present financial year the staff of the office in Berlin has been trebled, and at Vienna it has been increased from four to 25, but even so at both places the staff has had to work for very many hours, often well into the night, in order to cope with the work. While I have been paying a tribute to some of our more distinguished representatives abroad, I would like also to pay a tribute to the work that these men and women have done to relieve suffering, very often at great personal in- 1953 convenience, and under the strain in which they have had to work in the circumstances which I have described.
I come now to the heading YY, dealing with the decision to send members of the British Legion to Czecho-Slovakia. It will be remembered that it was suggested that members of the British Legion should go to Czecho-Slovakia during the crisis last September. The British Legion proposal was incorporated in the proposals for a peaceful settlement put to Herr Hitler by His Majesty's Government on 27th September. It was an exceptional measure, put forward at the last moment in the hope of averting what might have developed into a European war, and in so far as it was favourably received by Herr Hitler, the British Legion proposal contributed to a peaceful settlement of the dispute. The Committee will remember that the services of the members of the British Legion were not finally employed, but some rather elaborate arrangements had to be made in order to despatch a force of what amounted to 1,200 men recruited by the British Legion for special duties in connection with the plebiscite in Czechoslovakia. Candidates were informed that the possible duration of their services would be about six weeks; the men were to receive suitable payment. Olympia was taken over as a rallying centre for the Legion, and two ships were requisitioned for the transport of the Legion into Germany.
It was on 13th October that the International Commission reached the decision to dispense with a plebiscite, and in view of this decision the services of the British Legion were no longer required, and the contingent was disbanded. Before it was disbanded, however, my Noble Friend the Secretary of State sent a letter to all members of the Legion to thank them for their action, pointing out that their services had had a wider significance than they might perhaps realise in their disappointment. The German Government also sent a similar message of thanks to them, expressing their appreciation of the Legion's public spiritedness in holding itself ready for use if necessary. That, I think, describes the story of the British Legion. The expenses, as the Committee will see, were considerable, and that is why I have taken time in explaining the reasons. I could give, if required, details of the expenses, which include as to 1954 about one-third pay and allowances, the rest being devoted to travelling; for instance, sea transport, the hire of two liners, which amounted to a considerable sum, clothing and equipment, food and accommodation during the period at Olympia. All these, it will readily be seen, easily make up the rest of the sum. That, I think, covers as well as I can in my opening remarks, the various headings in regard to staff and special services.
I do not know whether the Committee would like to take each item separately or whether it would prefer to take the Vote as a whole.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
I do not think it matters very much. I am not sure that the Committee is seized of the order in which the Votes have been placed, but if there is no objection, I do not think there should be any difficulty in pursuing now the other groups mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Butler
Perhaps it will be convenient if I repeat the groups that I am going to take. I have dealt already with C, L, P, Q, KK, MM, and YY. K, M, and N deal with news and propaganda, and the first heading here is "News Department Expenses." The reason for this is the appointment of Press officers to certain of our missions abroad. This is an all-important step for the co-ordination of our publicity. Nine such additional Press officers have been appointed during the last year, and this sum is required to meet the salaries of those and any others appointed up to 31st March. Most of the appointments are quite recent; hence the sum is not very large. These officers' work is, I think, very valuable at this time, and I think it is a step forward for our publicity abroad that we should have taken the decision to appoint Press officers to those missions. They naturally work under the supervision of the Ambassador or Minister on whose staff they serve.
The second point is a sum of £6,000 paid during the crisis to Reuter's for the extra sending of words daily from the two stations at Leafield and Rugby. Leafield serves chiefly Europe and to a certain extent the Near East, and Rugby the rest of the world. It was thought that an increased output of news of the type that Reuter's send would be very valuable at the time of the crisis. The amount of 1955 words, thanks to this contribution, was raised from 1,000 to 3,000 daily, and the expenditure was divided approximately as between Leafield and Rugby, a certain amount going to ordinary headquarters expenses. I think the Committee will appreciate the value of this decision when they understand that some 20,000 words were going out daily from some American agencies, and, therefore, the decision to increase, by a special and quite extraordinary contribution to Reuter's, the amount of British words going out daily from these stations will, I think, be agreed to have been a valuable one.
The next heading is N "British Council." The British Council, as the Committee will know, is doing important work in spreading in foreign countries a knowledge of the English language and of British culture, thought, and institutions. I was interested to see in the "Times" to-day a tribute to an aspect of this cultural and non-political work of the British Council, in a letter written from Rome on 21st February, congratulating the Old Vic Players, who have just been visiting. Italy, and paying a special tribute to the manner in which "Hamlet" was rendered. I believe that this work done by the British Council abroad is extremely valuable. Let me instance further that the British Council have had considerable success in, for example, two particular places, to give only two examples. In Athens extra teachers for the School of English Studies have been a great success—there have been no fewer than 5,000 applicants for the courses—and in Bucharest extra teachers have been organised for the Anglo-Rumanian Institute, and there are now readers in English at two of the Rumanian universities.
This is an example of the type of work of the British Council which is steadily developing. They help to create Chairs of English in foreign universities, and over 150 foreign students are at present holding British Council scholarships or bursaries lasting for one year or more at British universities and university colleges. We have been accused in this country of not taking enough trouble to spread our own culture and ideas, and I think we should thank the British Council for the pioneer work which they are doing in this direction. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the 1956 Opposition for his collaboration in this matter, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Opposition, who has given his assistance, and I think we should all be agreed in thanking the Chairman, Lord Lloyd, for devoting the majority of his time to this work, and also those public-spirited donors who contribute a considerable sum of money to the work of the British Council every year. I think everybody realises what they have done. Therefore, I trust that with this explanation of the Council's work the Committee will agree that this sum for the all-important British Council at the present time is justified. That covers the general heading of "News and propaganda" under K, M, and N.
Now I come to Spanish questions, under PP and TT. The first is a contribution to the international fund established by the Committee for the application of the agreement regarding non-intervention in Spain. This particular grant is necessary for the preparations made by the Non-intervention Board, which is the international agency used by the Nonintervention Committee. The money required has been used in grants up till now for keeping in being the scheme of observation, and this Supplementary Estimate refers to the scheme of observation on the Spanish-French frontier and also to the question of sea observation. The Committee will probably wish to know what the present position about the scheme of observation is, and it may be said that in view of the gradual termination of hostilities, and in view of the fact that the observing officers have been held in readiness for some time and that it has become unlikely that their services would be needed, there has been a series of dismissals of those who have been collected to act as observing officers.
In the case of the land scheme the personnel was reduced by a considerable number of officers on 15th February last, and the number of officers will probably be further reduced in the course of this month. That is a wise course, because those who are responsible for voting the money want to be quite satisfied that we are taking steps to make the necessary economies. The sea observation scheme has been in full operation since April, 1937, and until very recently it has not been possible to make substantial economies. In regard to both these schemes, and more perhaps in regard to 1957 the land scheme, which has not been so recently in operation, it may be said that the service of the observation officers was not always in active operation. The answer is that it was thought advisable to keep a nexus of officers in being so that if the Non-intervention Committee's plan had been brought into force the services of these officers could at once have been called upon, and the plan could have been put into operation and gradually extended to deal with the problem.
In regard to the sea observation scheme, it is true to say that the fact that the vast majority of ships trading with the Spanish ports of the late Government of Spain carried non-intervention officers militated against breaches of the nonintervention scheme. I think that fact has tended to prove that the sea observation scheme, about which there have been a great many questions asked in the House, has been a valuable one.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not accept that statement, but I do not want to enter into controversy on the point. The contribution under TT is towards the expenses in connection with the withdrawal of volunteers from Spain. This is another aspect of the money which has been spent with a view to preparing for the Non-intervention Committee's plan coming into operation. Certain advance payments were made, as I informed the Committee last year on a Supplementary Estimate. These advances were made for the purpose of making preparations in connection with the withdrawal of foreign volunteers. I would remind the Committee that the decision taken by the late Spanish Government to disband their own foreign volunteers, accomplished a good deal of the withdrawal work, at any rate on one side, with the result that the immediate need of the scheme for the withdrawal of volunteers was not so necessary on this one side. In this case also a nucleus was kept in being always ready to be used in the event of the Non-intervention Committee's plan being brought into operation. The justification for voting this money is that it is best to take trouble with a scheme of this sort to make sure that the object we all desire, the withdrawal of volunteers, should be brought about and that we should be ready for action. The observation scheme contribution that we are making this month will 1958 be greatly reduced from what it was before, because the scheme does not call for as much expense as if it were being fully used.
The contribution under SS, WW, XX, and ZZ come under the humanitarian heading. The item SS includes a further contribution to the international fund established by the International Commission for the assistance of child refugees in Spain. We have been continually pressed as a Government to make further contributions to this International Commission, and we have been kept closely in touch with its work at London and Geneva. During the time of the retreats, when the refugees were having to flee from one town to another, many hundreds, indeed, thousands of children owed their lives to the work that was done by this commission, and I am glad to say that it has now extended its work to refugees who have crossed the French frontier. There is no doubt that the contributions made by His Majesty's Government had the effect of encouraging other Governments to contribute to the fund, and when other Governments contributed I am glad to say that we increased our contributions, to try and keep our generosity commensurate with the terrible tragedy with which the commission had to deal. The commission is now doing work in Nationalist territory. Representatives of the commission have recently been to Burgos and special arrangements have been made for relief in Nationalist territory. They have expressed the view that relief in Spain will continue to be urgently required until next autumn. Therefore, in voting this sum the Committee may realise that the International Commission is continuing its work not only on behalf of the refugees who have gone into France but in the Nationalist territory occupied at Barcelona and elsewhere by General Franco.
Item WW deals with the evacuation and maintenance of British refugees from China. On the outbreak of hostilities in the Shanghai area in August, 1937, arrangements were made by the British Government, through its consular authorities, with the help of local committees, for the evacuation of British women and children to Hong Kong. Between 17th and 24th August about 3,800 British subjects were sent to Hong Kong in six ships. Some 3,300 British subjects found their 1959 own accommodation and paid for it, but about 500 became a charge on the Government. The Hong Kong Government made the necessary arrangements for the relief of these. The expenditure during 1938–39 is expected not to exceed £11,000, and the amount recovered from various individuals, which goes as an appropriation in aid, comes to about £3,600.
Item XX refers to the relief of distress in Spain: a contribution of £2,500 towards the International Red Cross. The Committee will be aware that throughout the Spanish struggle His Majesty's Government have done their best to contribute to all humanitarian causes, and in addition to the International Commission the International Red Cross is one of the causes which we thought it right to support. The final item ZZ relates to expenses incurred in connection with the repatriation of British volunteers from Spain—£3,000. This sum is intended to provide for the expenses of some 500 men. Up to 14th January last, the latest date covered by the League Commission superintending the withdrawal of volunteers, some 400 men had returned to this country. The remainder are continuing to arrive in small numbers, and it is hoped that the total number will soon have returned.
I have had a certain amount of correspondence with hon. Members in regard to some of their constituents who have been involved. I should like to say a few words with regard to the undertaking for the repayment of expenses by the volunteers. This is the normal rule which concerns British subjects who are in distress abroad, but it does not mean that the Government will insist on a poor volunteer, who may be out of work and in distress, repaying the money for his repatriation. It is simply the normal provision. I can assure hon. Members that in many cases we have remitted the expense when we have been quite sure that those who are in trouble are not able to pay themselves. Therefore, I trust there will be no anxiety on that score.
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to add to the information? Does this Estimate include any provision for paying the expenses of certain Stateless members of the International Brigade, who cannot be provided for by the Government of their 1960 own country because they cannot safely return to their own country? There are a certain number of Stateless members of the International Brigade.
§ Mr. Butler
This Supplementary Estimate is for British volunteers repatriated from Spain. I shall have to take advantage of another occasion to explain to the hon. Lady the arrangements for foreign volunteers. I have now covered all the headings in the Supplementary Estimate, and I therefore urge its acceptance on behalf of the Government.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I think the Committee is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his very capable attention to every item of this very long list of expenditure, but we should have been better pleased if he had allowed himself a little more time to give us details which he omitted. Perhaps in the later stage of the Debate those details will be forthcoming. As I sat here I felt that if I had known nothing about the subjects under discussion I should have gleaned very little definite information from the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. We recognise that he has left himself open to questions, which he will naturally expect, and we hope that before the Debate finishes certain necessary details will be given.
For the convenience of the Committee the right hon. Gentleman divided the Estimate into various categories according to the quality of the service catered for. In that regard we are indebted to him. He first called attention to the increased expenditure on journeys in the public service. It has been a very busy year. There has been much going and coming and much advertisement of these moves, and I am surprised, after all that has been written and said of the peregrinations of Ministers, that so little money has been required to cover the expense. I am relieved to find that in these days of modern travel it has all ben done so expeditiously and so cheaply, and I am only disappointed that there has been little substantial fruit from all this effort.
On Item L, the Under-Secretary paid tribute to Sir Robert Hodgson for his work in Spain. There, again, I should like to have much more information regarding the work that Sir Robert Hodgson has been doing. We have never been 1961 able to find out at Question Time what he is doing, whether he is at Burgos or elsewhere, and whether he ever hears anything of the kind of news that goes round the world, except to Burgos. We have not been at all satisfied with the quality of the service of Sir Robert Hodgson. Of course, he has been working to instructions but his activities do not show that he has been too well aware of the conditions in Spain. We may now have come to the end of the struggle, which has lasted nearly three years, and it has had a result which probably gives much satisfaction to certain people in this House. I have been aware from the beginning that there are certain people in this House who have desired the end which now seems to be in sight. It is not the end, however, and everybody who knows the conditions in Spain and the implications of the struggle knows quite well that we shall learn far more of the details of the struggle itself and of what is involved in it in the months and years ahead of us. We have been kept in the dark—too much in the dark, having regard to the fact that we are supposed to be still a democratic country where free debate and discussion are permitted. I am disappointed that we do not know what Sir Robert Hodgson has been doing. He has been given an additional £1,300 for salary and payments for servants, and we admit that these are necessary expenses, but I would be wrong if I allowed this occasion to pass without reminding the Under-Secretary and the Prime Minister that Sir Robert Hodgson's activities in Spain have been hidden very much under a bushel and that the House has never been treated in confidence to a report of his activities.
We do not quarrel with the next item, the provision of gas masks for the British civil community in Egypt, but I hope they were organised and supplied with a little more efficiency than they were in this country. I have not received my gas mask yet. Many months ago I was invited in a hurry to go and get myself measured for a gas mask. I thought I would comply with the instructions, not that I attach much importance to gas masks, but I have not yet received it. I hope that these gas masks will never be wanted in Egypt, but we do not complain of any expenditure that will give protection to civil British communities wherever they live.
1962 I come next to the item for British observers in Czecho-Slovakia. I should have thought this would have been the occasion to tell the Committee much more about them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) endeavoured to put questions as we went along, for nobody knows exactly what these observers are observing and whether they have sent any reports to headquarters. No one knows whether they have been in contact with the military attachés and whether their experience has been of any value from a military standpoint. I had the pleasure of meeting some of these people; they were nice, intelligent people, and we should be proud of the ability to obtain the services of men of that type. I am sure that they would do no harm in Czecho-Slovakia, but I am not sure that they could do much good. By their demeanour they must have been a great credit to this country, and I am sure they did nothing to prejudice the reputation which we rightly hold in the world, and which I hope we shall hold for a long time. These men were meant to watch military movements and to see that the two armies which were in the field did not clash with each other. One of them had to deal with evacuation and the other with the equally difficult task of invasion. They came within speaking distance and the observers on the spot were there to try and obviate any difficulties between them. I think they did their part as military men quite well, but I do not know whether we derived any other benefit from the personal conduct of these men. It is not good enough to tell the Committee there is no more information and nothing more to be said, for we can never return to this subject in an orderly way, and as there is to be no White Paper published the Committee is entitled to more information.
We next come to the Commission for the exchange of prisoners in Spain. The right hon. Gentleman told us that not many prisoners were exchanged. That is a tragic commentary on the conditions in Spain. When I was in Madrid I saw some of these prisoners. I saw people who were being detained for political reasons, and nothing has depressed me more in my life than to see men with whom I disagreed politically detained in prison because they held firm to their political views. It is an honourable thing 1963 for a person to stand by his political views. It is the acme of conduct in politics to remain faithful and loyal to one's own side, and I do not blame the people who differ from me, and who, because they differed were in prison in Madrid. They were opponents of the Government and said so openly, and I and my colleagues endeavoured to soften the possible shock between the two sides when the war came to an end. We approached the Spanish Republican Army, and they did everything they could to reply to the plea we made for the anti-Red prisoners. My sympathies have been with the people who are described as Reds, although they are not nearly as Red as they are assumed to be. I made an appeal on behalf of the anti-Reds, because I do not believe any country can afford to vent displeasure and malice against defenceless people who differ from us in politics. I am convinced that if the Government had put forward every effort they would have been enabled to obtain a far better exchange of prisoners and have been able to achieve a far greater measure of reciprocity and recognition of the differences between the two sides. Every life sacrificed through the neglect of care about prisoners has acerbated feeling in Spain, and we come to the end of the conflict with bitter feelings, the toll of which will be known to us in the days to come.
The next item to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was the visit of Lord Runciman and his mission to Prague. I never knew why it was necessary to send him there, and I do not know to-day. Just before the House rose at the end of July we were told that he was going to Prague, and there was a great fanfare and blowing of trumpets on his departure. He was said to be on a mission of mediation to try and bring these people to a lasting understanding and to make peace. Almost on the day that Lord Runciman arrived in Prague the German Army was mobilised. That was the reply the Germans made, and day by day, as the negotiations went on in Prague between Lord Runciman and the Henleinists and the Czecho-Slovak Government, the German Army moved closer to the Czech border. Long before the conversations had reached any definite end the German Army was practically in possession, with the knowledge of the whole world. I 1964 feel sure that Lord Runciman could not on that occasion have done anything except as a representative of a country that was not prepared to put up with German intimidation, bluff and threats. The German threats were effective, however, and Lord Runciman came away having committed himself for more than anybody expected. Remember what the Sudeten-Germans themselves claimed. I have here a statement that was made by Henlein in Prague at a public meeting in October, 1933, about seven or eight months after the advent of Hitler to power. This is what he said: "By identifying ourselves"——
While we are voting money for Lord Runciman's mission, this is not an occasion on which we can discuss in detail the foreign situation of that time. We have discussed it several times in the House already.
§ Mr. Grenfell
No one wants to stop Lord Runciman having his expenses, but we do want to know why he should be paid, and whether a full measure of service and the right kind of service was performed by him. I am only trying to show that he finished his mediation a long distance behind the position taken up by Henlein himself in 1933, five years before Lord Runciman went to Prague. Henlein then said that they were co-operating and working peacefully with the Czechs, and in 1938, after various attempts, Lord Runciman came to an agreement, although the terms submitted by the Czech Government in August, 1938, went far short of the final settlement made by Lord Runciman. I regret having to say that, while we pay the money gladly to meet the travelling expenses of Lord Runciman and those who worked with him, we witnessed the retreat of British opinion on a matter so vital to the interest of this country when Herr Hitler had dominated Europe by threats of war——
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is going far beyond the Supplementary Estimates.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I am sorry. There comes a time when things should be said in this House, and I thought that this was the occasion. I do not wish to offend the Chair, and I will move on to something else.
1965 I come to the payment of £6,000 to the Reuter News Service. I do not know what particular service this news agency is capable of rendering, and I do not know why this special payment should have been made. I know that the firm claims that it has highly skilled reporters abroad, that it gets reliable information, and that it tests every piece of information, apparently, with more care than anybody else. I have seen statements in the "Times" by the chairman of Reuters, on behalf of the company, but we want much more information. I do not think Reuters is this kind of impartial judge on foreign affairs, reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without exaggeration. I do not believe that of any company, and I object to the inference that this company is to receive special recognition because of the impeccability of the firm and the services which it renders to this country. I would like far more information. I notice how strangely truth sometimes evades the efforts of this agency, which claims to be the best of its kind in the world. I will leave that to other Members who are far more expert on this matter than I am, but I think it is dangerous to select one particular agency, without consultation with the House, to disseminate news at very substantial expense, without more explanation than has been given to us.
In connection with the item for passport visa control abroad, I would venture to pay a compliment to the people whom I have seen working in Berlin, Vienna, Prague and elsewhere, and especially those who have worked courteously and efficiently since the summer of last year in helping the vast mass of refugees who have come to find a home in this country. It fills one with a pride which all of us ought to cherish that in these days of darkness, stress and difficulty abroad, it is to this country that the majority of those people wish to come. That is not an accident; it is due to the fact that we have been able to maintain a measure of freedom and still offer some hope of asylum for people who find it impossible to continue living in the countries where they were born. I am glad that our representatives when they have been besieged in their offices day by day by these people have been able to acquit themselves with such great credit. In Prague, where I have seen the work at 1966 close quarters, their accommodation was not suitable. It was necessary to provide more accommodation and a larger staff. I understand that provision is being made for that. I want to pay my tribute of respect of appreciation for the way in which these people have done their work.
Then I come to the contribution in respect of non-intervention in Spain. Great claims have been made for nonintervention. I wish that half of them were justified. I do not believe we have had half the results we were entitled to have under this machinery. If the officers who work for us had been properly treated, and able to carry out their duties, non-intervention would have had far more practical effect.
Now I would say a word about the international fund for the assistance of child refugees in Spain. Here is a tremendous problem. I am glad the Government have been able to make their contribution, and I hope we shall be able to join in the work of assisting these people, both in Spain and in France. I am also pleased to find that the Government are doing something for the repatriation of these men who went to fight in Spain. Those who went to fight for the interventionist States will go back to be honoured in their own countries. They fought as the official representatives of those countries. Our men, and men from the Dominions and from various parts of Europe are in a different position. Some of them are Stateless, and the one aim of mainy of these men was to find citizenship. They went to fight for the side which appealed to them most, and hoped that, as a result, they would win citizenship in Spain. I am glad to hear that there will be no harsh insistence on the repayment of these sums technically due from the men who are being assisted. They are poor men; they have nothing but a political faith. They have given everything they can afford to give, and, whether we agree with them or not, we ought to honour them for their consistency and their courage. I am glad that this country has given them the means of returning to their own countries, and when the pathos of this story has been blunted a little by the passage of time, I hope we shall remember that these men, believing in freedom, went and offered their lives in order that freedom might be saved.
§ Captain McEwen
Am I right in understanding the hon. Member to suggest that these Stateless men should be allowed to acquire British nationality?
§ Mr. Grenfell
No, but I should like some kind of Nansen passport to be given to them. I spoke to some of these men—Germans, Italians and others—when I was in Spain, and found them to be men with definite political views. They were just as strongly political as the Tories in this House, and there are no more ardent politicians than the case-hardened Tories in this House. These men were idealists, and I hope that all of these who are Stateless, and others who are State less—there will be many more Stateless men in Europe
§ Mr. Grenfell
I wish to express my thanks, and my further wishes that the Government will interest themselves on behalf of these people.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
These Supplementary Votes give us an opportunity of reviewing the famous events of last Autumn. First we see "Journeys on the Public Service." I would like to ask whether this Vote includes the journeys made by Sir Horace Wilson to Germany and back; or is that to be borne on the Vote for the Ministry of Labour? I am glad to note that this particular departure from our usual procedure has come to an end, and that Sir Horace, whom I have no wish to criticise personally, has obtained a high position in the Civil Service, and that apparently the officials of the Foreign Office are performing to the full those functions which at all times they have been capable of carrying out. In regard to the provision of gas masks for the British civil community in Egypt, I would like to ask a question. By all means let them have gas masks, but it is difficult to understand why they were selected, apart from all other British communities in and about the Mediterranean, who presumably equally require gas masks as protection against any possible attack. We ought to have some justification for the selection of these happy individuals living in Egypt for protection by gas masks.
I was somewhat astonished at the urbane audacity of the Under-Secretary when he referred to the smooth evacua- 1968 tion of the Sudeten territories after the Munich Agreement. Anything further from the truth I could hardly imagine. I happened to be in Czecho-Slovakia shortly after the Munich Agreement. I went as an unofficial observer to the frontier. What actually happened was that the Czech Army retired, and there was a gap of a day or two, during which there was no control of any kind and the Henleiners murdered and pillaged without interference. We should have had some further information about that; we should not be put off when money is asked for with such statements as "It is all confidential" and "I cannot give any information."
I want to say something about the Runciman mission, that deplorable episode in British diplomacy. I think one of the regrettable aspects of it is the language in which it was described to this House by the Prime Minister on 26th July. He then said that, in response to a request by the Czecho-Slovak Government, this mission was to be sent. I suppose there might be a certain understanding of English which would make this an accurate description, but, of course, the facts are that the Czechs knew nothing about it. It was all cut-and-dried without their knowledge; they did not like it, they did not want it, and then it was put up to them, "Had you not better tell us that you would like this Mission to come?" It is extremely unfair to the Czech Government that they were burdened with the responsibility of saying that they wanted the Runciman Mission to come out; they wanted nothing of the kind, and the Government knew that perfectly well. The object of the Runciman mission, as many of us suspected at the time, was simply to put over the policy of the surrender of the Sudeten German areas to Germany; it was that and nothing else. The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that that was his policy. He said so at the famous luncheon party on 14th May given to American journalists by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). It was all made perfectly clear then.
§ Mr. Mander
I appreciate that fact, but I was only making a passing reference to it. I think it has a very direct bearing 1969 on the objects of the Runciman Mission, which were solely for the purpose of putting over that policy. He was to go out as an investigator and mediator. Those were the words that were used. I do not wish to make any personal attack on the members of the Runciman mission. I am sure that in the circumstances they did all they could, and all that they were asked to do, but the action of the Government in sending them out was highly reprehensible, and, if it were possible to censure the Government by voting against this particular proposal, I should be very glad to do so. But I am afraid it would only have the effect of depriving the members of the Runciman mission of their expenses, which they certainly earned. One wonders whether there is any other Runciman mission in the world to-day. It has been suggested that the Runciman of Tunis is M. Vaudion, but I cannot say anything further on that subject.
I should like to pay tribute to the very fine work done by the British Council under the chairmanship of Lord Lloyd. I think that we might well spend even more money on it than we are actually doing. I am sure it is raising the prestige and influence of Great Britain in all countries where it is carrying out its work, and I think we ought gladly to vote the money required. With regard to the question of office expenses at Vienna, I understand that there is still very considerable delay occasioned to persons waiting to get passports and visas, and I should like the Under-Secretary to give more definite information about the matter. I would ask him whether he feels that, although we have given that additional staff, it is even now sufficient to deal with the large number of persons who are daily queueing up or requiring attention.
I pass to the Non-intervention Committee. I resent very much having to vote a penny towards that disgraceful farce. It has been extremely successful in carrying out what I have supposed for a long time has been its real object, namely, the victory of General Franco in Spain. It has unquestionably secured that, because without its operations in preventing food and arms reaching the Republican side, certainly Franco never could have triumphed. In helping Franco to win, the Non-intervention Committee has inflicted on this country and France a major military defeat. That may be 1970 disputed, but time will show. It may be a few weeks or it may be a few months, but certainly many of us feel that, in what has happened, this country and France have received a very serious blow indeed, and that our insecurity has been greatly increased.
I would like to ask the Under-Secretary for some information which I know he will not much like to give, but it has a bearing on the question as showing the farcial proceedings of the Non-intervention Committee. How many of its observers have been done to death by the members of the Non-intervention Committee itself? We know of cases where these observers, travelling on food ships and in British ships and other ships in the normal course of their duty, and proceeding to Spanish ports, have been bombed and machine-gunned from the air by aircraft belonging to members of the Non-intervention Committee, and nothing has happened about it. It would be interesting to know how many have been killed, and what sums of compensation have had to be paid to the families of these individuals, and whether such sums are borne on this particular Vote.
I now pass to the item in the Estimate —"TT—Contribution to Expenses in connection with the withdrawal of volunteers in Spain." Nothing at all has been obtained. An elaborate scheme has been built up over many months. A pretence had to be made that there was some chance of its being put into operation in order to justify the continuation of the Non-intervention Committee, but it was known perfectly well that there was no chance because, although all the members of the Non-intervention Committee had agreed to it, General Franco was opposed to it and would not allow it to be carried out. I would ask the Under-secretary whether, seeing that there are still foreign troops in Spain on Franco's side, it is proposed that when they are evacuated, if ever, the expenses of that evacuation will fall on the funds of this Vote? I cannot ask how they are to be paid otherwise, but I think we are entitled to know whether the Non-intervention Committee in any of these Votes is to pay for the evacuation of the volunteers from Franco's side.
As to the Item YY, I should like to praise the public spirit of the British Legion in offering their services in such large numbers and being willing to go 1971 to Czecho-Slovakia and endure the experiences and hardships with which they would have had to contend. At the same time one cannot help realising that a very large sum of money—£5,000—has been spent because of the failure to carry out the terms and the spirit of the Munich Agreement. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the International Committee met they decided that, after all, it was not necessary to have any plebiscite; that, happily, agreement had been reached among all members of the Commission and the Czechs, and that, therefore, there was no need for anyone to go. What I understand actually happened was that the International Committee met, and, if there was any discussion or talk about plebiscites or variations of any kind, the Germans said, "Our view is so-and-so, and if you do not agree we march." Then the International Commission hastily came to heel and did exactly what Hitler said, and in these circumstances no plebiscite was necessary. But it is not a very creditable piece of work from the point of view of British foreign policy.
It is interesting to find in regard to "ZZ.—Expenses incurred in connection with the repatriation of British Volunteers from Spain," that a scheme, which is a necessary final part of, perhaps, the one successful piece of work that has been carried out by any organisation in connection with Spain, was carried out by the League of Nations. The League of Nations Commission went out, at the request of the Republican Government, to withdraw the International Brigade and did its work with great success, and they ought to be warmly congratulated. What they did bears a very marked contrast to the futile proceedings of the non-intervention Committee, and I very gladly agree to vote the sum of£3,000 for the finishing off of the work that they have so successfully carried out. There will, I think, be other opportunities for referring to certain other aspects of the Foreign Office work, but I am glad to have had the opportunity of making these few comments on the momentous—as it is from whatever point of view you look at it—events of last autumn and of saying some things in strong criticism of certain of the events which took place, at the same time feeling that in the circumstances one cannot do other than vote the money 1972 for the persons who were ordered by the Government to carry out this work.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Williams
It is really some time since I studied closely any Supplementary Estimates, and I say frankly, from a study of the present Supplementary Estimates, I realise what a not very strong and industrious Opposition means when you have Estimates which are not quite so closely studied, as has been the case in the past. It may do no great harm if I point out one or two of the things which have struck me very much in going through these Estimates. It says under SS:Any balance of the sum issued which may remain unexpended at 31st March, 1939, will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequer.That sentence is one which many of us have seen before, and it occurs in these particular Estimates again and again. It shows that we are constantly voting sums of money which will run out in due course, and then ultimately we do not quite know what has happened to them. I am glad that, at any rate, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is present, because undoubtedly he may, sooner or later, become Chancellor of the Exchequer and be in a position to deal with this matter very severely. It goes further than that. It says under TT:Conditions as to audit, surrender, etc., will be those applicable to the grant for which provision is made in Subhead PP above.In other words, you have reference back to another Sub-section of this particular Estimate. It is a very great pity when you get an Estimate of this kind in which there are so many items not estimated for.
I wish to say something on a matter which I do not think has been given sufficient attention, that is, the very small Vote of £8,000 under the head of WW for the help of our own subjects in China. This is a very small Vote. A great number of our own people have lived for a long time in China, and on this occasion they met with a very considerable amount of trouble in many ways and were in great danger. I would far rather vote this £8,000 in respect of the women and children of our own people who are carrying out our trade in China than some of the other money we have to vote to-day. We have heard so much about other people and foreigners that I do not think 1973 there is very much harm in one Englishman saying that this is money which we spend gladly and willingly, and that we congratulate the Foreign Office on the work they have done there. I do not depreciate their services in other matters, but I would rather spend our money on these people than in some of the other ways.
I would like to draw the Under-Secretary's attention to a question I asked him about the exchange of prisoners from Spain. I realise that a sum of £3,800 has been expended, but that has not all been expended in the actual exchange of prisoners. The real value of that sum is in the help it has given to ameliorating the condition of prisoners in Spain. I do not know what the actual number is; it may be that it is small, but, at any rate, there is no harm in the Committee knowing actually what has happened. This is one small outlay in the great work that has been done, and there is no doubt that many thousands of lives have been saved in Spain by the help which the British Government have afforded. The British Navy has also played its part. I think the Minister had a very strong point here and could have made a much stronger case than he did, because almost the entire sum in these Supplementary Estimates, amounting to £250,000, has been spent in helping human suffering in one place or another throughout the world. That is what the Government have been doing, and I think it is a very strong point which should have been emphasised much more than it has been.
Equally I was disappointed with some of what I would call "Wolver Hampton criticisms" which we have had this afternoon on the Sudeten mission. Members of the Liberal party have always turned round and criticised an ex-Liberal and a great Englishman who gave up his time to try and bring peace. Can they do nothing else but ask questions? As far as this mission is concerned it has been successful, and the least the Committee can do is to take a generous view and give some appreciation to the man who gave up his time and his services to the country.
§ Mr. Mander
I would remind the hon. Member that in my speech I said that I was not in any way attacking the Commission, who no doubt did their best. I 1974 was attacking those who were responsible at the time.
§ Mr. Williams
I heard that statement, and I also heard, as did other hon. Members, the underlying sneer which ran through the speech of the hon. Member. I do not think there is any need to follow it up, but I think it is a grave discouragement to this country if we fail to give full credit to those, to whatever party they belong, who may be sent on a foreign mission. Now I will say a nice thing about the hon. Member, and that is that at any rate he has joined with everyone else who has taken part in the Debate—and may I add my humble voice in a tribute to Lord Lloyd for what he has done for Britain. As one who does not like Supplementary Estimates I should not complain if this particular work, really true British propaganda, was increased in the future. However strict the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be on other matters, that is one of the things which I hope he will never curtail in any way. Supplementary Estimates of this kind, most of them for the purpose of helping to redeem distress in other places, are well justified indeed.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) opened his speech by offering a few congratulations to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I would like to add one or two of my own, though not for the same reasons. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) referred to the urbane audacity of the Under-Secretary of State, I would prefer to describe it as massive placidity. The Undersecretary has developed almost to a fine art the capacity of describing Estimates of this kind with such an absence of emotion as to leave the Committee to believe that behind them there is no tragedy and no misery. I congratulate him, too, on a further accomplishment. He has used such guarded and reserved language in making his statement that if the technique is developed much further and much longer it will be found that while he may be thought to have said something, on examination it will be found that he has said nothing at all. He said: "Even so far as Herr Hitler accepted the idea of the British Legion the offer of the Legion contributed to a peaceful settlement." In another year's time the Under-Secretary will say, "In 1975 so far as Herr Hitler accepted the idea the offer of the British Legion contributed to a peaceful settlement in so far as there was a peaceful settlement."
Then as to the work of the British observers. He was pressed to tell the Committee whether, in fact, he knew anything of the observations of these observers and he admitted that in the process of change and evacuation of the Sudeten areas there had been what he called certain difficulties. That again is a classic example of using the minimum of language to describe the maximum of suffering and disturbance. In the case of the Army and in the case of the civilian refugees I am not going to press him for more specific information, but there is one point upon which I do desire further information, and that is the operation of the Munich Agreement, particularly Article 7. It seems to me that the operation of this Article was primarily the duty of the British observers. They carried heavy responsibilities for making certain that this country did all it could to see that the Article was implemented in the way the House was led to believe it would be in October of last year. In the Debate in October my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) asked the then Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence what was to happen to the Sudeten-Deutsch who did not want to go under the jackboot of Hitler. The Minister replied:This is provided for in Article 7 of the Treaty which enables them to have six months in which to opt out of the State or into the State as the case may be.I think the Committee is entitled to press the Under-Secretary of State for an answer on this point. Is he satisfied from the reports he has received from British observers that Article 7 has in fact been implemented in its terms and in its spirit?
This is a Supplementary Estimate dealing with the salaries and expenses of these observers.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am trying very hard indeed to keep within the Rules of Order, and I am obliged to you for what, obviously, is sympathy. I submit that this is the last occasion on which we shall be able to discuss this work, and further that the circumstances are so recent as to make it not possible to discuss it on 1976 the original Estimate. Therefore, I submit that it is proper to draw attention to it now and to ask the Under-Secretary whether he is really sure from the reports of the British observers that Article 7 has been implemented in the letter and in the spirit? I press the point no further. The Under-Secretary also said that he had been satisfied by the assurances in the matter of reprisals from both sides. The announcement made in the "Times" of the new Burgos Judicial Code creates some uneasiness in the minds of those who read it. The Under-Secretary of State also made a reference to what he called the excellent services rendered by Lord Runciman, and did so in justification of the Supplementary Estimate. With respect to what the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has said, I would ask, "to whom were the excellent services rendered?" and I suggest that the bill of costs should be sent to those who were rendered these excellent services. I suggest it should be sent to Berlin instead of to this House. In regard to the Supplementary Estimate in connection with Non-intervention, I think it was Horace Walpole who said:Life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.It is certainly a mixture of comedy and tragedy that the Committee should be asked to agree to a Supplementary Estimate of £20,000 to cover the expenses of pretending that we are following the policy of non-intervention, in other words, in an attempt to secure an objective which, in fact, has not been secured. The tragedy and the failure we have before us. The tragedy is emphasised by the fact that the total Vote for non-intervention is less than the Vote for retrieving the consequences of the tragedy in Spain. I ask the Under-Secretary to say how this money is being spent and what part of it is being spent in Spain, and what contribution is being made to the refugee relief work which is being undertaken by the French Government. A grave responsibility rests on this Government for the situation which has arisen, and many hon. Members will be glad to know that far more generous provision is being made for the victims of this tragedy and suffering. I want the Government to stop spending more on a vain pursuit than it is proposed to spend on saving the victims from the consequences of our weakness and our folly.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State upon the lucid way in which he presented these complicated Supplementary Estimates, and to join with hon. Members on all sides of the Committee who have paid him a tribute on that score. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) made a speech, with his usual fairness in dealing with controversial questions, and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), in his customary attitude, with both feet firmly planted in mid air, also made a contribution to the Debate. The hon. Member for Gower, in the course of his remarks, told us that he was without a gas mask, and went on to say that the fact that he was in that condition did not very much concern him. I hasten to acknowledge the tribute which therein lies to the policy of the Prime Minister. I would say that I also, were I in the same deprived condition in which he finds himself, would not be particularly concerned, and for the same reason; but I would add that if it were the case that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power at the present time, I should not only take care to be in possession of a gas mask, but I should be carrying it at this moment.
I want now to refer to one complaint that was made by the hon. Member for Gower concerning Sir Robert Hodgson's activities. The hon. Member made great play of the fact that we had, so he averred, been left in the dark as to the nature of Sir Robert Hodgson's activities. I think the hon. Member is making a mystery out of nothing. After all, all His Majesty's envoys and representatives abroad, in the normal course of events, report directly to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; their reports are confidential, and are not published or made known either to the House or to the public. Surely, Sir Robert Hodgson was in no different position as a diplomat. Therefore, the statement that his activities were hidden under a bushel is, I think, somewhat misleading. As regards the Runciman mission, of which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton spoke at some length, there again the question was asked, Why did he go? As soon as the hon. Member had asked that question, he proceeded to give an answer, for he went on to describe the growing 1978 seriousness of the situation as it then existed. Surely, that is the answer. The Runciman mission were sent as investigators and mediators precisely because of the growing seriousness of the situation as it then existed.
There are one or two points in connection with the Supplementary Estimates to which I would like to draw attention. I join with other hon. Members who have expressed a desire that there should be an even greater contribution from the Government to the funds of the British Council. Anybody who has been in any way in touch with the activities of that Council during the past few years must know the immense amount of good which it is doing in every country in Europe at the present time. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) in hoping that the cutting down of those funds will be the last form of economy which the Treasury will attempt to make, for they were never more necessary than they are at the present time. As regards Sub-head K in the Supplementary Estimates, my right hon. Friend referred to the fact that nine additional Press officers have been appointed, and it would be interesting to know, if possible, to what posts they have been appointed.
As regards Sub-head SS, surely the best service that we can render to the refugees in France, apart, of course, from taking action in the way of assisting the French Government with grants of money for looking after the refugees, is to facilitate, through the ordinary diplomatic channels, which are once more open, the return of these refugees to their own country as soon as possible. I know that there are some men, it may be soldiers, who would not in any circumstances return there for fear of such reprisals as might be carried out on their own persons, but surely, in the case of the bulk of the women and children and the old men, who have not in any way been mixed up in politics, the best thing for them would be to return to their homes as soon as possible. I trust that the Government will endeavour to facilitate that. With regard to Sub-head ZZ, which refers to expenses incurred in connection with the repatriation of British volunteers from Spain, is it not possible, as a common-sense suggestion, that the same organisations as paid for these men's passages out to Spain might be called upon at any rate to assist in paying their 1979 passages back? In conclusion, I wish to touch upon one subject—I do not know whether it is in order on these Supplementary Estimates, but I do not know on what other occasion it could be raised—which has been raised once or twice at Question Time, namely, the admission of women to the Diplomatic Service. In all brevity, I would merely like to ex press——
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Cyril Entwistle)
That is a matter of policy which does not arise on these Supplementary Estimates.
§ Captain McEwen
I am delighted to hear that. If it is a matter of policy, it is one which in all probability will not come up for a considerable time. That being so, I will not even suggest what I was going to say, except that I hope the occasion will never arise for me to say it.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) did not find it possible to extend his customary gallantry to the fair sex this evening. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will have observed that all the references made this afternoon to the British Council have been favourable, and that without exception each hon. Member who has spoken has asked for further funds to develop the work of that body. I warmly support that plea, but I ask my right hon. Friend to tell us a little more about the Council than he was able to do in his opening remarks. The Council is in its infancy; it is only starting now to establish itself and to develop its work. I believe that work is of the highest value to this country and the Empire. It is work intended to promote a wider knowledge of Great Britain and the English language abroad, and to develop closer cultural relations between Great Britain and other countries. If properly carried out, I believe that work may exercise a potent influence for peace itself. Therefore, it seems to me to be necessary that the Committee should follow, not only generally, but in some detail, the activities of the British Council.
I should be obliged if my right hon. Friend could give me guidance on two aspects of the British Council's work-first, its constitution, and secondly, its 1980 methods and administration. As to the constitution of the Concil, as hon. Members know, it is intended to be a British body, even though my right hon. Friend told us that its function was to develop English culture abroad. I would like to make it clear that it is British culture with which it is concerned. The Council is essentially a British body, and therefore, it should represent not only one part or certain parts of the country, but the whole country; and in order that that representation may be as effective as possible, it ought to reflect not only general cultural interests where these are common to all areas, but national characteristics as well, where, as in Scotland, and it may be also as in Wales, these are distinct and have their own peculiar contributions to make to the development of British contacts in other lands.
I had better answer my hon. Friend at a later date; it would take me a long time to make it plain to his English mind. In Scotland, we rather resent the use of the words "England" and "English" as meaning the whole of Great Britain and British. If they are intended to mean "Great Britain" or "British," those words should be employed.
Well, the United Kingdom and Ireland. I do not claim for Scotland that its culture or its traditions are in any way superior to those of England—I reserve that sort of claim for St. Andrews nights and Burns suppers, where a modest pride in Scottish achievements is generally and generously permitted—but I say that the culture and traditions of Scotland are different, and have a special value which ought not to be ignored. As the Committee know very well, centuries ago, long before any contacts had been made by London, Scottish traders were in the closest touch with traders in the Low Countries, and friendships were made then which persist even to this day, and find expression in Scottish names, Scottish titles and Scottish streets in almost every country in Europe. In the New World, and in other lands, men of our race have established reputations for fair trading, ability and comrade- 1981 ship which, although no more honourable than those of England, have a worth of their own which makes a particular appeal at any rate to some foreign peoples.
Those peculiar contacts are of real value to the British people as a whole, and when an organisation such as the British Council is created to foster an understanding of this country, its character, education, arts, and sciences, and so to enhance our standing abroad, it seems to me not only wise but necessary, in the best interests of the United Kingdom, that the contribution of Scotland should be fully employed. Of course, there are Scotsmen already upon the British Council. But this body is becoming more and more an official organisation. It stands officially for Great Britain, and therefore, it seems to me a reasonable request that the Scottish Office should be directly and officially represented upon the Governing Body of the British Council.
The Scottish Office is not merely a Department dealing with a single phase of our social life—health, education, or what you like—but is a Department that stands for all the activities of that country. In truth, it stands not for one section but for the whole range of Scottish life, and therefore, it may be taken to represent the nation. I understand that the Foreign Office are now considering the appointment of a Scottish Office representative to the executive committee of the council and I hope that my right hon. Friend in his reply will be able To give me an assurance on that point. Such an appointment would give great satisfaction to Scotland and would, I am certain, be of real value to the council and its work. My right hon. Friend will observe that I have made no reference to the somewhat unfortunate controversy which has arisen recently about certain Scottish films. I feel that with the addition to the membership of the executive committee which I have suggested, that difficulty would be quickly disposed of, to the mutual advantage of all parties.
With regard to the administration of the council reports which have reached me from the Balkans lead me to believe that the people in those countries are at present exceedingly anxious, or as it was put in one letter, "desperately keen," to make friendly contacts with this country and that there are great opportunities for an extension of the council's work there. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend 1982 could enlighten the Committee on some of the following points. In most Balkan countries there are already schools for British nationals. Are those schools given adequate consideration? Is their value sufficiently appreciated? Is adequate use being made of the numerous business interests in those countries which include, I am assured, many great experts upon the problems involved? Are the links between the universities used to the fullest extent? Apart from the itinerant lecturers of whom we hear a great deal, who are sent to lecture in Turkey and elsewhere, has the council developed sufficiently the plan of establishing what might be called resident disciples, that is to say, British men and women who will live in those countries, and meet the people in their daily tasks, and so spread knowledge and understanding of this country?
What is the organisation of the council for the effective approach to these various problems? Each country differs from the other in its needs and outlook, in the temperament of its people and in their attitude towards our country. I know that the council make use of experts in various walks of life, but I wonder they have considered the idea of setting up regional committees. I suggest that a number of such committees should be formed each responsible for a particular country and each composed of experts upon that country's needs and conditions. If such a plan were adopted it would be possible for a scheme of steady, sustained activity to be conducted in each country, on lines proposed and supervised by the regional committee responsible. Given such a plan, we should feel assured that the best thought was being applied to this subject and that practical methods were being employed. I believe that in that way we could establish, on sound lines, a growing understanding between ourselves and the peoples of foreign countries in whose keeping, I believe, the fame, fortune and peaceful purpose of the British Empire may well repose.
§ 6.20 p.m.
Mr. Creech Jones
Like the hon. Member who spoke last, I feel some doubt in regard to the work of the British Council. It may be that I am profoundly ignorant of that work or that I am a little sceptical, but I should like to receive from the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a little more information 1983 about this body. It seems to be taken for granted that all members of this Committee are fully acquainted with what the British Council is doing, but I have noticed already in this discussion some inconsistencies in statements made as to the purposes of the council. One hon. Member told us that it existed for performing "real, true British propaganda," whatever that may be, whereas the White Paper informs us that the council exists to develop closer cultural relations between Great Britain and other countries. It may be that its work is educational, but if the council exists to do a particular job in the sense of spreading a particular type of propaganda, one must express doubt as to the effectiveness or value of its organisation. I, personally, do not object to the building up of a better understanding among people abroad of the social and cultural life of Great Britain, but I am not anxious that British money should be spent on propaganda purposes in the narrow sense.
It may be that, in regard to these things, I am a heretic, but I cannot help feeling a little sceptical when I read occasionally in the public Press about certain titled individuals being sent abroad to lecture on the social and industrial problems of this country. Apparently one qualification for the spread of British culture is the possession of a title. I may be wrong in my assumptions, but I have been trying to get a little more information about what the council is doing and I have not been successful. The sending abroad of representative people from this country should be only one part of the council's work. I am informed, too, that the various committees which have been set up under the council seldom meet. I understand that the kind of specialised duties which it was hoped the council would perform are seldom discussed by the specialists whose aid was sought to guide the council in its work. I put these points because, frankly, I do not know what is the real scope of the council's duties. There seems to be considerable hesitancy on the part of the council to tell the world precisely what it is doing.
I tried recently to get the report of the council, and I find that the annual report is a very considerable time in coming out. I doubt whether a report has been issued yet, and one cannot find out what 1984 the activities of this body have been for the last 18 months. If this body is of such importance and if public money is being spent in connection with its work, then it ought to report regularly and there ought to be a closer contact between it and the House of Commons. I agree with the previous speaker that we ought to know in greater detail about its work. I do not intervene now with a view to prejudicing that work but merely in order to get more information about it. I hope that we may be assured that that work is now going forward on sound lines and in a broad-minded spirit, and that this body is ably representing British culture and social life to the peoples of other countries.
There is one other matter with which I wish to deal. It concerns the conditions operating in our passport offices abroad. I would like to be assured by the right hon. Gentleman that the unhappy conditions of congestion which made it so difficult for refugees to escape from several countries have now been sufficiently modified to ensure a speedier and more efficient service in this Department. I know that the passport offices abroad have had to work under considerable difficulty. That we readily admit. One appreciates, too, that it is impossible suddenly to increase the staff of an office by transferring to it inefficient or inexpert people for the handling of the very difficult problems with which these offices have to deal. One pays a tribute to the magnificent services which have been rendered in this connection, but I would like to be assured that as a result of the new arrangements and extensions of staff which have been made, the discomfort and inconvenience previously suffered by many people who sought to come to this country have now been removed. I hope that the conditions in the offices are better for the staffs concerned and that they are no longer subject to such tension and such heavy pressure as existed recently. I hope also that while some considerable measure of relief has been afforded to them, the people who are seeking their services are no longer liable to delays and inconveniences. Those are the only two points which I wish to raise. As I have said, I am anxious to learn a little more about the British Council, because it seems to me that while everyone is prepared to eulogise it, we have been left in complete ignorance about its work.
§ 6.28 p.m.
It is remarkable that in this discussion nearly every speaker has expressed unwillingness to curtail the money which we are being asked to vote on these various heads. Indeed, in many cases, the main criticism that has been made was, "We wish it had been more." On the question discussed by the two previous speakers, namely, the grant to the British Council, I should like to say briefly how fully I agree with those who have paid tribute to the work of the council considering the meagreness of the resources placed at its disposal. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what the British Government contribute to the council. I wonder whether he can also tell us what the German and Italian and French Governments are contributing under different names, for propaganda in some of the countries where the British Council is operating. I think it would be a fairly safe guess that for every £1 spent by the British Council in any of these countries, £1,000 or perhaps £100,000 is being spent by Germany and Italy in propagating their false faiths.
I am to some extent critical of the direction of the activities of the council. When I was in Yugoslavia and Rumania two years ago, I found everybody there grateful for the British Council's work, but in one university after another I was told something like this: "What we really want from the great democracies is closer contact between our peoples and especially more instruction in our countries in those institutions and those ideals which are the special glory of the democracies." What they wanted was more instruction in our social system, in our industrial development and in all matters of that kind. At this moment it seems a pity that the British Council should restrict itself so much to single lectures and to concert tours. It seems to me that what we want are short courses on particular subjects given at two or three universities at the same time, so that the democracies of the countries in which those universities are situated may get a real knowledge of the institutions and ideas that are characteristic of the democratic countries.
As to the contribution to the expenses connected with the withdrawal of volunteers from Republican Spain, we were told that arrangements have been already 1986 completed for the withdrawal of the British volunteers. I hope I shall not be transgressing the limits of the Debate if I ask whether any arrangement has been made for the withdrawal of those persons who, though volunteers, are not British subjects, and are not the subjects of any nation that can be expected to receive them back. There is a proposal in the report of the Non-intervention Committee, which was adopted last July, relating to the question of the withdrawal of stateless persons, in which it was suggested that those persons should be evacuated to the countries in which they were habitually resident. The actual arrangements made for the withdrawal of volunteers did not come under the Non-intervention scheme, because the scheme was never technically carried out, but I suggest that we have a moral obligation to treat those volunteers who fought in Spain, and whom the Republican government voluntarily dismissed, not less well than they would have been treated if the British plan had come into operation. The actual position is that thousands of them are at present living on the Southern border of France, where they came from Catalonia, under the most cruel and deplorable conditions. They are brave men, some of the best fighters in Europe. Cannot we find something better to do with them than leaving them to starve to death, or, if they are taken back to Spain, to be shot against a prison wall. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether something cannot be done for the removal of these men.
A tribute was paid to the work of the International Military Commission that supervised the withdrawal. If His Majesty's Government admire the work of the Commission, I would ask why they have so carefully suppressed all mention of its report. I had the greatest difficulty in securing even that a copy should be placed in the Library. It seems as though the Government are determined to honour that report by giving it a quick burial. One is tempted to suggest that, because it contained such a glowing eulogy of the honour, good faith and efficiency of the Republican Government, it did not suit the policy of His Majesty's Government at the moment to give it publicity.
I pass to another report to which there is the same apparent disposition to pay 1987 lip service but to do nothing to make its. facts known. I refer to the grant for the payment of the expenses of the Commission on Aerial Bombardment in Spain. The right hon. Gentleman told us, in his introductory remarks, that that commission was about to be disbanded. Has its report been published; or, if not, when will it be published, and will steps be taken to see that every Member of the House has the opportunity of reading it? If not, is the reason the same as in the previous case, namely, that the report of the Commission on Aerial Bombardment in Spain records a large number of cases in which aerial bombardment of civilian populations has taken place, without any military justification, by General Franco and his foreign allies; and does it record any similar instances where there was on the Republican side bombardment unjustified by military exigencies? I may be unduly suspicious, but I strongly suspect that when we see the full report of that commission, we shall find that, just as in the case of the other commission, as little as possible is going to be said about it, because the report is extremely unfavourable to General Franco and relatively favourable to the Republican Government. There is no doubt that at present it does not suit the Government to give publicity to any facts that tell in favour of the defeated government and are unfavourable to the new government in Spain, with which they want to curry favour. I sometimes wonder what has become of this country's traditional reputation for sportsmanship, or of the spirit that used to make the British people reluctant to kick a man when he was down and anxious to pay any tribute they could to those who were in distress.
As regards the assistance of child refugees, I am heartily glad that we are now giving an increased grant. The original grant was £10,000, and it is now to be increased to £80,000. The right hon. Gentleman made considerable capital of the fact that His Majesty's Government had been the first to make a State grant, namely, this grant of £10,000. For a considerable time no other Government had given an equal sum, and he seemed to be making a claim on behalf of the British Government that it had been very generous. Consider the facts. I speak from memory, but I think I am right in saying that the necessity for sending 1988 assistance to child refugees in Spain was first mooted about October, 1937. There were hagglings and discussions at Geneva, and there were endeavours to get other governments to contribute, but, in fact, nothing was contributed until about six months later, after the bitter winter had passed, and then His Majesty's Government contributed the noble sum of £10,000, and took great credit to themselves for having given more than any other government. According to the Report of the International Commission itself, that was but a third of the sum necessary to cover the first period of its operations. It only sufficed to feed about a tenth of the child refugees who needed provision and was a very meagre contribution to their assistance.
I should like to ask when this increase from £10,000 to £80,000 was made, and why it was made. I suggest it was made for two reasons, the first being that the Government were ashamed because the United States Government offered to make a contribution of corn in kind to the value of £100,000, and the Government of Sweden—poor little Sweden—offered to make a money grant of £75,000. [Hon. Members: "Poor little Sweden?"] Sweden is certainly small and is poor relatively to Great Britain. It is a country for which I have a great admiration. It was only when the United States sent £100,000 in corn, and Sweden £75,000 in cash, that His Majesty's Government proposed to give this new grant, just when Barcelona had fallen or was about to fall, and when the money was likely to go into Franco Spain rather than into Republican Spain. I do not say that that was the motive, but it does look just a little like it, does it not?
It is said that, after all, it is more than other countries have given, but what about France? France has not given as much in cash, but how many refugees has France received? At least 100,000 refugees from Spain have gone into France during the last year or two, whereas we have not been allowed to bring one refugee into this country as a refugee. We were allowed to bring 4,000 Basque children here—and there was a fearful fuss about it—on condition that they were kept entirely at the expense of the voluntary organisations abroad. They were not even allowed to be sent to our elementary schools. That was our generosity to the 1989 refugees. France has been infinitely more generous to the refugees than we have. And what about other countries? I suggest that the responsibility that rests upon the shoulders and the conscience of France and of this country is very different from the responsibility that any other country has to bear. We were the authors, we were the initiators of the Nonintervention Agreement, and, whatever may be said about that Agreement, whatever claim may be made, and granted, that it prevented the war from spreading, we must recognise, and it cannot be denied, that the tragedy and appalling suffering that are falling upon the defeated Republican Government just now, and the crowding into France of nearly half a million refugees——
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Lady is really going beyond the boundaries of the Supplementary Estimate.
I accept your Ruling, of course, but the point I was trying to make was that, so far from this grant of £80,000 being a magnificent effort of generosity, it is far too little and far too late. The right hon. Gentleman said that the money given to the International Commission had saved many thousands of child lives. I am sure it has. But how many child lives were lost because the amount given was so small and came so late? Is the right hon. Gentleman's conscience haunted by the thought of the children and mothers who might now be exulting in the sunshine and looking for ward to the spring, but who are rotting in their graves, or whose constitutions are irrepairably damaged because of what we did not do in Spain, or of the little assistance that we gave? We never even tried to stop the bombing of ships bringing food to Spain——
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Lady is trying to deal with matters which are far outside the Supplementary Estimate.
I will say no more, beyond expressing the hope that the International Commission for Child Refugees will go on with its work, and that the £70,000 increase in the grant is only going to be part of what we give, because the need for this work is greater than ever, if not in Spain itself, in those districts of France where the International Commission, I understand, is now operat- 1990 ing, and where people have been living in deplorable conditions for a month or more without any covering over their heads and lying on the bare ground. I know of a hospital in that part of the country which is without a roof, but has 4,000 patients and only two doctors and two nurses to look after them. At present those patients do not come within the reference of the International Commission, because they are not children. I trust that the Commission's reference will be extended to cover men and women as well as children, because there is now more need than ever for its beneficent activities and for the most generous contribution that the British Government can make towards its expenses, which at present the French Government are bearing almost alone.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott
I do not propose to follow the hon. Lady into an examination of the matters which she has discussed, but I should like to make one or two observations with regard to the British Council. In the first place, I think, it might be worth while, since we are accurately examining Supplementary Estimates, to call attention to what I imagine to be a clerical error. I see that on page 10 the sum required is stated as £27,307; but I imagine that, by one of those errors on the part of the Government Printer which are extremely rare, this figure has been carried across from the figure which, correctly, appears at the bottom of page 11. Anyone merely glancing down the page might imagine that the provision required for the grant-in-aid of the British Council was £27,307, whereas I think the correct figure is £20,500, as appears from page 8.
On the substantial question I only wish to say that I believe that the work of the British Council deserves the most active and generous support of the Government and of every Member of this House. I had occasion not very long ago to offer to the House some observations on the work of the Council, and I do not propose to add to them upon this occasion, but I should like briefly to associate myself with the plea that came from my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) that in the future this financial provision which appears in the Estimate should not be at 1991 all cut down. I think that it would be a very bad thing for British prestige abroad if the financial support accorded to the British Council by the Treasury were to reach a certain figure and were therefore to support a certain level of activities by the British Council and then, in the future, were to be diminished, with the consequent diminution of the activities of the British Council. Such a thing, I think, would do great harm to that prestige which it is one of the functions of the British Council to increase.
I pass from that matter to remark upon the item in the Supplementary Estimates for the expenses incurred in connection with the repatriation of British volunteers from Spain. I do not particularly wish to make the observations I am going to make, but I think I ought to offer a remark upon one aspect of this question which we, as Members of the House of Commons and guardians of the public purse, should not pass over. I could, if I were so minded, enlarge upon the political character of the action of the men who went to fight in Spain. If I were to do so I should deplore what I sincerely believe to be the dangerous and frightful folly that induced men to go to fight for anarchy and Communism under the delusion that they were defending the cause of democracy. But to go too far along that line would lead me out of order. I wish therefore to insist upon this fact: that the men who went to fight in Spain broke the law of the land. They were in breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act. That is a very important fact.
§ Mr. Emmott
I have not the Act here, but I certainly understood, that in a Declaration which was made, I think, in February, 1937, by the Foreign Office, although I speak from memory, it was declared to be—it was not a new law, merely a declaratory statement of the law—illegal for persons to volunteer for service in Spain.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member's remark is in order upon the point he was going to make, but it is not in order to discuss whether he is right in his statement about the Foreign Enlistment Act.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is in order for the hon. and learned Member to deny the statement, but we cannot enter into a discussion about who is right.
§ Mr. Emmott
I must say that I do not accept the hon. and learned Member's assertion that my statement of the law is incorrect. But if it would be in order for my right hon. Friend to do so when he comes to reply to this Debate, perhaps he would inform me whether I am right or not. I believe I am right, and I believe the Declaration, made, as I think, although I am speaking from memory, in February, 1937, relating to the Foreign Enlistment Act, showed that the actions to which I am referring were in fact illegal. If this view is right I say that the Committee is now being invited to sanction a charge upon public funds which is due to activities that themselves constituted a breach of the law, and I consider that the Committee should deplore this fact. I admit the necessity of the repatriation of these men; but I deplore the illusions that were responsible for the circumstances that now call for this charge upon public funds. And finally I wish to say that I support, because I consider it was an extremely sensible one, the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington that the cost of this repatriation should be borne, at least in part, by the organisations that were responsible for the original enlistment.
§ 6.52 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
The Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) made an allegation that the Prime Minister had determined long before the Czecho-Slovakian crisis arose to hand over that country to Germany. While there appears to be substantial evidence to confirm that view I believe the Rules of Order would prevent me from going into details, and we shall have to permit history to record 1993 the accurate facts of the case; but when we are passing the item in respect to Lord Runciman's visit to Prague we shall be entitled, I suppose, to express our particular views upon what occurred then. I want to say at once that in my judgment the work of Lord Runciman was carried out with remarkable consistency and efficiency, and with an ardent desire to secure good will and a proper settlement, within the Czech State, of the Sudeten problem, but I wish also to confirm that in my judgment he was prevented from fulfilling the object which he had in view by the visit of the Prime Minister to Berchtesgaden. In that way his work was completely nullified, and never yet has there been in the House an explanation of the action which the Prime Minister took.
§ The Temporary Chairman
In that statement the hon. Member is going much beyond the scope of what is in order upon this Supplementary Estimate. The hon. Member can give his views upon the mission, but he cannot argue about the Prime Minister's visit having affected the result of the mission.
I desire very anxiously to meet your desires in the matter, Sir Cyril, but I should like to place on record this statement of the Prime Minister. At the time he said that for some time past he had contemplated visiting Herr Hitler. When he made that statement in the House he also stated that peace had once more been restored between the Czechs and the Sudetens. If that were the case, what reason had the Prime Minister for withdrawing Lord Runciman at that time from Czecho-Slovakia? I assert that that withdrawal was the prime cause, probably, of the misfortunes that then fell upon the Czechs, for immediately the Prime Minister determined upon the visit to which I have just been referring and sent that humiliating and obsequious telegram to Herr Hitler he at the same time withdrew Lord Runciman.
I take it we are paying for, along with other things, the sending of certain cables in connection with this whole affair, and to stifle our criticism of these particular items seems to me to be taking a rather stern view of the situation.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member must not say that. That is criticising my action. I have given my Ruling and the hon. Member must observe it.
§ Mr. Mander
On a point of Order. If we are considering the payment for sending a particular telegram or cable would it not be in order for an hon. Member to discuss the advisability of the sending of that cable? Surely nothing could be more relevant.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am not aware that we are discussing the expense of that particular cable, but in any event it would not mean that because the cost of a cable is in an Estimate hon. Members can discuss general matters of foreign policy in the widest terms.
Then I will content myself with stating that I believe the work of Lord Runciman was destroyed by his recall from Prague at a time when the Prime Minister admitted that peace had been restored between the Sudetens and the Czechs, and that if proper judgment had been exercised he would have been permitted to go on with the good work on which he was employed. I leave that side of the Estimates and would like to say how grateful one is to observe how the work in connection with passport facilities which have been afforded to those abroad was carried out, at much sacrifice and with much overwork, by the officials. It has been my duty to aid in the return to this country of certain of the refugees, and I have nothing but the highest praise for own own people and for the employés who were engaged upon this work abroad.
With regard to the British Council, that is a departure which, I hope, will become part and parcel of the normal life of this State. To extend a knowledge of Britain, of our culture and our democratic institutions, has become more necessary, in the judgment of those of us on this side of the Committee, on account of the international humiliations we have suffered, and it will not be a bad thing for the British people if such knowledge is extended in this country. I think it was Bernard Shaw who said that if you want to know anything of a subject you should lecture about it. This expenditure upon extending knowledge abroad might well be directed at times to this country in 1995 order that the British people should have a fuller knowledge of their own country. At all events, from my point of view this expenditure will have the advantage of stabilising to some extent our democratic institutions. It will confirm Governments of the day in the good task to which we have so far directed our attention, and it may be that we shall be able by those means to extend democratic institutions abroad. The conflict of words and controversy from Central Europe appears to have somewhat declined, and I think it will cease at a very early date I think Britain may well look to the British Council as being the means of nullifying false propaganda and restoring in due course the ancient prestige of this country among the nations of the world.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey
I should not have intervened if it had not been that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) questioned the provision that is made for payment to Reuters Agency of expenses incurred in increasing their output of foreign news at the request of the Government. The hon. Member asked why they should select this one firm, which he charged with lack of impartiality. The reason why the Government requested Reuters to increase their output of news is obvious. On two recent occasions the House has passed Resolutions recognising the value of the distribution of British news through British channels, and if the Government are to implement those Resolutions they must use the main channels that are available. In the distribution of news to the newspapers of the world Reuters is not only the main British channel; it is the only British channel. It is the only British agency which has world-wide facilities for the distribution of news. It has also obtained an immense prestige built up by its independence and the accuracy and integrity of its news services. That prestige is, I think, the answer to the unsupported charge of partiality which the hon. Member made.
In recent years Reuters have had to face very heavily subsidised foreign competition. Foreign Governments, realising the value of the dissemination of news to the newspapers of the world, have accorded vast support to various news agencies and given them cheap wireless facilities. They have been able to 1996 issue well edited wireless services. All the news in those services is news seen through foreign eyes, and some of it is definitely tendentious in character. I think, therefore, it is in this country's interest that world news should be presented through British eyes as an antidote to foreign subsidised competition. Reuters efficiency and prestige have so far enabled them to hold their own. Help or no help, they will continue to fight for British interests. But let us be quite frank. The strain is beginning to tell and, if they are to continue to do so, to the full effect in the face of this competition, some special wireless facilities or some assistance in meeting Post Office charges should be available to them. The crisis last September emphasised the need for this supply of British news throughout the world and, at the Government's request, Reuters increased their wordage and were promised assistance towards their telegraphic charges. That assistance was only in the distribution of news. It implied no interference whatever with the collection or selection of the news and therefore the assistance does nothing to interfere with the effectiveness of Reuters service, which is due to their prestige, built up, as I have said, on their independence, accuracy and integrity. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will not hesitate to vote this small sum to assist them in carrying out their work.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
I should like to say a few words to contradict the statement of the hon. Member below the Gangway with regard to the British volunteers who went to Spain. The events of the last few weeks are so well known that hon. Members should now realise that the Welsh miners and others who volunteered for Spain in order to support the Republican Government were doing something which they sincerely believed was in the interests of democracy and liberty. I am sure that, when history is recorded, it will be clearly shown that they were doing something which was essentially necessary for preserving liberty throughout the world. The hon. Member's comments cast very serious reflections upon honourable people, citizens of this country, who sacrificed not only their occupations but almost their careers in volunteering, not in order to assist anarchy and Communism but to try to maintain democracy throughout the 1997 world. I should like to know what the Government are really going to do in regard to the refugee problem, which is now being faced almost entirely by the French Government. The report that we receive on all hands is that conditions are really deplorable. I should like the hon. Gentleman to indicate how this money will be spent and what real assistance, not only financially but in every other way, the Government are prepared to render in order to relieve this very serious situation.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Butler
I think I had better start, in replying to the points which have been raised on these rather complicated Supplementary Estimates, by acknowledging the general atmosphere in the Committee in accepting the fact that this money is needed for expenses concerned with the relief of distress. I have, therefore, been glad to notice, in spite of certain criticism which must always be forthcoming from those who wish to discharge their duty as legislators, the general acceptance of the necessity for these Supplementary Estimates. I had better take first the point of financial purity put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who has returned to his interest in Supplementary Estimates. He drew attention to technical explanations put in the headings to SS and TT. The first is:Contribution to the International Fund established by the International Commission for the assistance of child refugees in Spain.The reason for the statement thatAny balance of the sum issued which may remain unexpended at 31st March, 1939, will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequeris because of the nature of the grant, which is a grant of charity, and this is put in in order that the usual practice shall not be followed that any unexpended sum shall be returned to the Exchequer. The second point to which he referred is explained by the particular character of the Vote. The first had the characteristic of being a charitable Vote. The second has the character of being an international Vote for an international body. Therefore, the expenditure will not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, but, at the request of the International Board, the accounts of the Council will be audited for the Council by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
1998 The hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) said she trusted that the report of the commission which investigated bombing in Spain would be published. The Bombing Commission was appointed to be at the service of the contending parties to investigate the results of individual bombardments. This it did, and its reports were submitted to the League and were considered by us at a meeting of the League Council in January. I do not want to return to a controversy which was rather of the hon. Lady's making, but I never had any intention that the previous League report, which was concerned with the withdrawal of volunteers, should be withheld from the public gaze. I spoke of it at Geneva. The world Press was present and a large part of its contents was reproduced in the Press of the world. I did not realise that the document was not readily available in London, but understood that full publicity was given to it. In the same way the reports made by this Bombardment Commission were before us at Geneva and they were commented upon by the Press. I will certainly give an undertaking that their contents shall be made available as soon as possible for the House to consider. I hope the hon. Lady will accept my assurance that I shall be only too pleased to let those reports see the light of day.
The hon. Member who spoke last asked whether the Government were giving close enough attention to the relief of refugees on the French side of the frontier. I can assure him, and others who have raised the question, that it is of extreme seriousness, and its gravity is fully realised by the Government. I can say no more to-night than I could on the previous occasion because action has taken place on French territory, under the control of French organisation, and therefore I cannot give any further information until we can give the reply from the French Government in answer to certain suggestions that we have made. When I can, I shall be glad to give such information as I have to the Committee or to the House. The only mariner in which; that serious question comes out to-night is because the International Commission-has extended its work over the frontier. To that extent I could not accept the hon. Lady's remark about our contribution being too late. There is plenty of distress with which the commission will have to 1999 deal. I must answer her general criticism by saying that I am glad that we have not been castigated in this manner by the International Commission itself, which has, in fact, expressed its gratitude to us for what we have done.
Has not the International Commission frequently reported that the money in hand was completely inadequate for the task it had to do, especially when so many children needed feeding?
§ Mr. Butler
Yes; I was just about to say that, but I like to yield to the hon. Lady. I was just about to say that it is certainly true that any amount of money that we could get would probably be inadequate to deal with the great distress; but we have done our best, and I believe that our contribution has had some result.
I want to deal with the points raised in connection with the British Council. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) raised the usual question, which appealed to me, whether this was a British or an English council. Unfortunately, I am not Scottish and not English. I can be perfectly fair in this matter. I should have used the word "British," following the name of the British Council itself. In order to comfort my hon. Friend for his disappointment with my previous language, I can tell him that we have secured an agreement with the chairman of the council enabling me to say that arrangements are being made for the representation of the Scottish Office on the executive committee. I trust that this will take place very shortly.
The hon. Member also raised one or two other questions relating to the Balkans and to regional committees. I have referred already to the work of the British Council that is done in Rumania and other places. In the Balkans the work of the council has been directed towards establishing Chairs and Readers in universities. We bring students from schools there to England—and I hope Scotland, too—to help to encourage English teaching in the school. The British Council does not have regional committees abroad because it prefers to work through our missions. There are in London two regional committees of the British Council, the Near East Committee specially concerned with the Balkans, and the Iberian- 2000 American Institute, for South America. To a certain extent there is here the type of regional advice which the hon. Member desires.
Apart from that, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) raised the question of the report of the council, and said he would like to know more about it. That is a very laudable desire, but I would refer him to the Debate which took place the other night on a Private Member's Motion on the subject of the dissemination of news abroad. I would remind him that the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Opposition are connected with the council. It is in no sense a body favouring one section of the country rather than another, but it is essentially a British body representing the best that is in this country, with the object of making cultural links with other countries. On the question of reports, the council has not actually published detailed reports, but I understand that a report in general terms on its work and activities throughout the world is in course of preparation and will be published shortly. When it is published, we shall take every step to bring it to the attention of the Committee and of the House. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to say any more on the subject I will do so, but I want to assure him that we are trying to meet the points which he raised in his speech.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddingtonshire (Captain McEwen) asked whether the new Press officers had been appointed. I referred in my original speech to the Press officers in missions overseas. They have been appointed at Belgrade, which covers Sofia, Brussels, Bucharest, Stockholm with Oslo, Helsingfors, Lisbon, The Hague, Buenos Aires and Lima. It is hoped in due course to appoint Press officers in certain other capitals. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) raised the question of the contribution to Reuter's. I may say that that point was ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey).
Then we come to the various more detailed points under Head L, Diplomatic Services and various movements. While considering this question of diplomatic journeys, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked whether the expenses of a certain public 2001 servant were included in sub-head C. I am advised that the cost of the Prime Minister's visit to Munich is being borne on the Treasury Vote, and is not included under this head. I have nothing I can say to him in reply on that point. The hon. Member for Gower referred to the services of Sir Robert Hodgson. I am sure that the hon. Member's criticisms were not directed in any way personally against our agent. I could not recognise that the services of Sir Robert Hodgson have been shielded from public gaze or that the results have not been brought before the House. His services have been most valuable in maintaining British interests under exceptionally difficult circumstances with what were known at that time as the Burgos authorities and keeping our Government in touch with matters. If we are in due course to cement an old friendship with an old country under a form of government that has come about, I am sure that the services of Sir Robert Hodgson, at an extremely difficult time, will be remembered. I was asked about the exchange of prisoners. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay asked how many prisoners had been actually exchanged by the machinery of Sir Philip Chetwode's Commission. The answer is about 300, apart from the other achievements to which I have referred.
Considerable reference has been made to the British observers in Czechoslovakia, and the hon. Member for Clay-cross (Mr. Ridley) asked about the relationship of the work of the observers to Article 7 of the Munich Agreement. That article relates to the optants, and the British observers had no connection with that matter, so I am afraid that I cannot deal with it under this Vote. Observers come under Article 6 of the Munich Agreement, which related to the evacuation of the Sudeten territory. In reply to some of the points raised in connection with these observers, I would remind the Committee of the terms of reference which were given to these observers for the work that they were expected to do. They weregenerally to render assistance in the areas under occupation by Germany in accordance with the terms of the Agreement and more particularly to investigate any incidents which might arise and do their best to avoid them.As I said before, it is thanks to the careful 2002 work of the observers that more incidents did not arise. I will not deny that things were not altogether satisfactory, but considering the difficulty of such an evacuation it was carried out smoothly and quickly and it was in part due to the observers that that was so. I was asked whether the observers had reported on the evacuation of Czecho-Slovak military material. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) made a point of it. I am informed that this matter would have been dealt with by the military sub-committee of the international body in Berlin, and the Committee should know that this question was settled, we understand, to the satisfaction of the Czecho-Slovak military authorities by direct arrangement between them and the German military command on the spot. In fact, a great deal of military material was withdrawn, but this was not specifically the work of the observers. In order to answer the points put to me I have deliberately taken up these questions.
Now I come to head SS, which deals with the relief work of the International Commission, to which I made a passing reference at the beginning. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay asked whether I would continue to bear in mind the type of relief which has been and will be given; I give the Committee the extra assurance that we are aware of the great importance of the need for this relief at the present time. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton referred to the sad death of certain of the non-intervention observers. I am informed that four observing officers were killed in the course of their duties, two Danish, one British and one Swedish. He further asked what provision had been made for their dependants. I am informed that the Nonintervention Committee makes provision, by a suitable insurance and compensation. From inquiries I have made, I think its compensation is on a scale suitable to the circumstances.
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that I cannot give particulars in each case. They were killed in the course of their duties. I think I have covered all the detailed points which have been raised in the course of this very interesting Debate.
§ Mr. Mander
Would the right hon. Gentleman give a reply under the heading TT, whether any of the funds could be used now for the evacuation of the foreign troops on Franco's side.
§ Mr. Butler
That is a matter which will have to be decided by the International Committee. It is not a matter on which I can give an answer here, because more than one Government is represented on the Committee, but from the point of view of the British Government I will certainly investigate the hon. Gentleman's point.
While on that point, would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the matter which I raised, as to what is to be done with the Stateless volunteers, who have no Government to look after them?
§ Mr. Butler
That matter is not covered by any Vote here. As I told the hon. Lady yesterday when she came to see me on the subject, the importance of this
§ question is fully realised and we shall render all the aid we can to help return these men to whatever country they wish to go to. In some cases when people are Stateless it is very difficult to find a destination for them. We shall certainly do our best to investigate the matter, and, as the hon. Lady suggested, we shall consult authorities who know the situation on the spot. I now ask the Committee to allow us these Supplementary Estimates, believing as we do that they are for the purpose of the relief of distress in a period of grave international complications, and indicating as they do the determination of the Government, not necessarily to get involved in every quarrel in the world, but to help lessen the evil results that arise from quarrels between men.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £258,987, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 121; Noes, 207.2005
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £259,087, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for the expenses in connection with His Majesty's Embassies, Missions and Consular Establishment abroad, and other expenditure chargeable to the Consular Vote;
certain special grants and payments, including grants-in-aid; and sundry services arising out of the war.