HC Deb 07 March 1939 vol 344 cc2006-15

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £40,000, 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 salaries and expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

7.41 p.m.

Mr. Butler

This Supplementary Estimate is not so considerable, either in size or in scope as the one which we have been considering all the afternoon. The position is that additional sums are required for each sub-head of the Foreign Office Vote amounting to £15,000. In addition, a deficiency in passport fees of £25,000 is anticipated, so that the main Estimate is short by £40,000. The reason for the increased expenditure and the decreased passport fees is the international uncertainty to which I referred on the previous discussion. Salaries have gone up for various reasons, such as certain emergency work by clerical staffs, overtime, and so forth. There are certain under-estimates for the office work of the Committee on Non-intervention, about which we had a full discussion on the Diplomatic and Consular Vote. As to the Communications section, Sub-head B, this covers salaries of King's Messengers visiting capitals abroad, and incidental expenses include cypher telegrams received from abroad. Then there are sub-heads for expenses in connection with telephones and special services, in particular, wireless equipment needed as an extra in the difficult time which we had last October.

Perhaps the main head which arises under the Foreign Office Vote as such is the question of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. This committee was set up by the resolution of the Evian Committee on 14th July, 1938, and it provided for the creation and the appointment of the director, whose task would be to negotiate for the improvement of the conditions of refugees and to approach the Governments of the different countries with a view to developing opportunities for settlement. A great deal of work has been done since the date when the Evian Committee was set up, and when the political director, to whose work I should like to pay a tribute, was appointed. The committee have since been in contact with certain German authorities, and it is understood that consideration of the question is still proceeding. There is a certain amount of satisfactory news to report. There have been certain very encouraging offers from countries of settlement, notably from the United States of America, Australia, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines, and these, with the offer made by His Majesty's Government in the Prime Minister's statement of 21st November, make by no means a negligible contribution to the solution of the general problem. Several of these schemes are already being examined by expert commissions. The committee has been in existence for only a little over six months, and the problem is so vast that long-term schemes take a long time to mature. In the circumstances, therefore, the committee's achievement in focussing the attention of some 30 Governments on the problem must be regarded as most valuable. The committee also offers an opportunity of close and constant touch with the United States, whose assistance and interest in refugee problems are of the very greatest importance.

There is one recent development which has given the Government considerable satisfaction. It may have been thought at one time that the committee's work would overlap or hamper the activities of the League of Nation's refugee section; but a decision has been taken that the League's High Commissioner for refugees should, in addition, assume the office of director of this committee. Thus the lack of co-ordination between the Evian Committee and the League's High Commission for refugees has been avoided by selection of the same man to be director of both bodies. I should like to pay a tribute to Mr. Rublee and to welcome his successor whose great administrative record and work at Geneva I appreciated very much at the last meeting of the council. After these explanations, I hope the Committee will be able to vote this money for subjects which are non-contentious, money which is needed for the prosecution of the work of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I should like to say a few words in regard to what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman about the Evian Committee and the League of Nations refugee organisation, and the work which these two bodies are now engaged in doing. I, too, should like to pay a tribute to the valuable work done by the late director of the Evian Committee, Mr. Rublee, for whose ability and character all who know him have a very high regard. The Under-Secretary was right in saying that the Committee was very fortunate in having him as its first principal agent. I should like also to associate myself and my hon. Friends with what the Under-Secretary said about the League of Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees. I think it is a very happy augury that so able and distinguished a British civil servant should have been chosen as High Commissioner of the League of Nations refugee organisation, and I think it is still more happy that the Evian Committee should have selected him as the successor of Mr. Rublee. I hope this means that all the refugee work is now going tobe pooled together into one organised system.

Many years ago I had the honour of serving under Dr. Nansen when he was acting as High Commissioner for the League in the early days when very large numbers of refugees were dealt with, many more than now, in spite of the disastrous civil war that has been going on. Very great and successful refugee schemes were carried through then. I have always believed that the success achieved was largely due to the fact that the High Commissioner was able to use the authority of the League, which was greater in those days than it is now, and that he was also able to use the international machinery of the system of local officers established by himself, independent in a sense of the local government and working on behalf of the High Commissioner, but associated very closely with the administration of the National States where they were established. I believe such a system is absolutely indispensable if any big schemes for refugee settlements, or for the infiltration of refugees, are to be carried through.

I hope the Government will press for co-operation as closely as they can, and that when the right time comes, in spite of the economies which there may be in the Budget of the League, they will see their way to give Sir Herbert Emerson, as High Commissioner, a much larger sum than is at his disposal now. He has in that capacity certain revenues at his disposal from the sale of the Nansen stamp, and from refugee postage stamps issued by certain national administrations, in particular France and Norway. This means a very considerable amount of money, and I hope His Majesty's Government will introduce postage stamps of this kind here. It would be an example to many other Governments, and at this very critical time, without further burdening the taxpayer, except so far as he chooses voluntarily to be burdened, it would be a means of raising additional revenue. I hope, also, that when they come to consider the matter they will put more money into the Budget of the League itself. If Sir Herbert Emerson were to be given another £20,000 a year, of which our share would be £2,000 or £2,500, it would enable him greatly to extend the scale of his administration and to secure much larger practical results than he can at the present time.

Having made these general observations, I would end by asking the Undersecretary if he can tell us whether it is the intention that Spanish refugees shall be brought within the scope of the Evian Committee or of the High Commissariat of the League of Nations. I hope that we shall not see a repetition of the tragic follies of the past, when certain refugees from Germany were excluded from the work of the High Commissariat of the League, because the German Government objected. Therefore, for a long time there was no effective protection. Although in the end the work had to be united, it was greatly hampered in the meantime. I hope the Government will bring the Spanish refugees into the ambit of this work. If they do so, they will help France to deal with a problem which is not specifically a French problem, and in respect of which a great burden has fallen upon the French people. We ought to pay a tribute to their generosity in this matter. I hope they will be helped to deal with the problem, as it ought to be dealt with, on an international basis. By doing this we shall also be doing something to lessen the misery of the Spanish refugees themselves. I do not want to deal with the other items. By far the most important matter raised by this Vote is that of the refugees, and I hope the Government will be able to give a satisfactory answer.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I should like to raise one or two points in connection with this Supplementary Estimate. The first comes under sub-head A, the £750 for the Non-intervention Committee. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some indication when this work is coming to an end. Obviously, it will not go on very much longer, and he ought to be able to give us some assurance about the period that he has in mind. With regard to subhead E, telephones, I suppose the reference is to telephone calls which have taken place on Government business at home and abroad. In so far as it involves telephone calls abroad, I read with horror one day in the Press during the crisis that the Prime Minister had been spending a good deal of his time at Godesberg telephoning to Members of the Inner Cabinet in London. Obviously, what he said was overheard by the Germans and would be conveyed to Herr Hitler at once. This is a serious point. It is ludicrous for the Prime Minister to spend his time telephoning to colleagues over here from a country or for a matter of that from any country where everything that is said in a crisis of that kind is known to the other side. I think it was a rather remarkable proceeding.

Included in this Vote, also, is an Estimate for a direct telephone line between the Foreign Office and the residence of the Secretary of State. I presume that refers to his home in the country, in Yorkshire, and not to his residence in London. If so, I am entirely in favour of it. I would do everything I could, so far as I understand the situation, to strengthen the position of the Foreign Secretary in relation to certain of his colleagues. If anything can be done by giving him direct telephone communication and by cutting off the telephone communication of certain other Members of the Cabinet, it would be in the general interest of the foreign policy of this country. I should also like to know something about the wireless equipment. For what purpose is it used? We have not had any information about it.

In regard to the Inter-Governmental Committee, I should like to join in the tribute paid to the late director, Mr. Rublee. It is very largely due to his attractive and sincere personality that he was able to get on as well as he did while he was in Germany, and I think it is a very wise procedure to have selected Sir Herbert Emerson to take charge of both sections of the work for refugees in future. I hope that this means, as the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) said, that the Spanish refugees and the refugees from anywhere else will be brought under Sir Herbert Emerson. That is the most effective way of dealing with the matter. I do not know whether we can have any information as regards the results of Mr. Rublee's visit to Berlin. A good deal has appeared in the Press in a way that is clearly authoritative. As I understand it roughly, the scheme is that the money of the Jews, which has been taken, stolen, from them should as to 75 per cent, of it be kept in a trust fund in Germany—I am not clear whether it is to be for the benefit of the Jews or for the Nazis—and 25 per cent. is to be used for the purpose of paying the fares to the frontier of Germany. I do not see why the Noble Lord should call me to order.

The Paymaster-General (Earl Winterton)

I did not do so.

The Temporary Chairman

I do not see how the point which the hon. Member is raising arises on the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Mander

I was getting on quite well until the Noble Lord called me to order.

Earl Winterton

I did not use the word "order."

Mr. Mander

I appreciate that it may not be in order to discuss this question. I am only trying to find out whether we can have information from the Undersecretary or the Noble Lord on this subject. Without pursuing the matter further I should like to comment on what Mr. Rublee was able to do. He carried out admirably the task which was allotted to him, but he had no control of policy. It is an odious situation that these Jews are to be allowed to be robbed and despoiled, and then we have to agree to some scheme that will help the Germans to make money out of them. If it is possible for the Noble Lord or the Undersecretary to give us any further information on this question, it will be of public interest.

7.59 p.m.

Earl Winterton

I am sorry the hon. Member thought that I had interrupted him. I am afraid that it is not possible for me as chairman of the Evian Committee to enter into a discussion of questions which are of the utmost importance, but on which I can say nothing in view of the Ruling of the Chair. All that I can say is that contact of a favourable character is being maintained with the German Reich, a contact which was established in the first instance by Mr. Rublee, on behalf of whom, as chairman of the committee, I should like to express gratitude to hon. Members for their friendly references. I would like, also, to pay a tribute to the patience and skill with which he has conducted the discussions and with which he has generally directed the work of the committee. The only other point that arises in connection with this Vote is the question of co-ordination between the activities of the Inter-Governmental Committee, or Evian Committee, as it may be termed, and the work which is done by the League High Commissioner. While it is desired, as I understand, both by the Council of the League of Nations and certainly by the committee over which I have the honour to preside, that there should be the fullest co-operation and co-ordination of activity, it is impossible to have one single organisation because the United States is not a member of the League of Nations. The Government of the United States take a particular interest in this matter of refugees from Germany, but it is not possible for them to be a member of any body which is directly connected with the League of Nations.

Mr. Noel-Baker

On many occasions the United States have officially participated in conferences and committees organised by the League of Nations.

Earl Winterton

That is not the point. It is a different thing to be officially a member of a body which is under the League. I am, of course, not in a position to speak for a foreign Government, but I know that I am expressing the exact truth when I say that it would not be possible to carry co-ordination and co-operation further than it is being carried at this moment. Germany too is not a member of the League of Nations. It is a delicate subject to deal with, but it is easier to carry on discussions between the director of our organisation and the German Reich Government than to carry on discussions directly between the Reich Government and an organisation belonging to the League of Nations. The matter is being kept constantly in mind, and I hope that on some occasion when there is an ad hoc discussion on this subject it will be possible further to inform the House.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Will the Noble Lord say something about the Spanish refugees?

Earl Winterton

That is another matter with which I am not officially concerned, because I only act for the Foreign Office in the matters to which reference have just been made. In regard to the Spanish refugees being placed under the Evian Committee, however, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that is impossible because by our mandate drawn up at Evian, and for which we obtained the authority of the associated Governments—and may I say, in parentheses, that as far as our Constitution is concerned we have been singularly united—we are precluded from considering other than refugees from old and new Germany. However, my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary informs me that nothing is being left out of consideration as to the future of Spanish refugees. They are being at present cared for by the French authorities.

The Chairman (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I do not think that that comes under this Vote.

8.7 p.m.

Miss Rathbone

May I ask when the Evian Committee will meet again to reconsider what seems to me the fatal decision arrived at last June, when they laid down the principle that all efforts for refugees must depend on voluntary organisation? Until they budge from that fatal position, which every expert on the refugee question admits to be an impossible one, for we cannot deal with a problem so vast with voluntary funds, that resolution seems like a blank wall stopping all serious effort to deal with the problem on a big scale. I hope that the Evian Committee will shortly reconsider that matter and at the same time consider extending its reference to cover Spanish refugees.

Earl Winterton

It is a little difficult to answer the question while keeping within the rules of order, but perhaps I can give this reply, that neither as representing His Majesty's Government on the Committee nor as chairman of the Committee could I possibly advocate a departure from the policy that was laid down at Evian. The 32 nations represented on the Committee were unanimous in their decision, and it will be no use asking them, even if I were inclined to do so, to alter this constitution. It is left to the chairman, in consultation with the director and the vice-chairman, to call a meeting of the Committee, and there will probably be a meeting in the summer. It will then be open to any member to raise the point mentioned by the hon. Lady, but every one of the nations is opposed to any alteration of the conditions which were laid down at Evian. The Committee, I think, has achieved considerable results, and I have the greatest hope that it will achieve still greater results in the coming few months.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £40,000, 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 salaries and expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.


Resolutions reported.