§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I wish to raise the question of the Children's Overseas Reception Scheme, with reference to the replies that were given at Question Time yesterday afternoon, and with more particular reference to some aspects of the problem as revealed in those replies. I regret that the time available to-night is not adequate for a full discussion of the problem and of the implications of the announcement that was made yesterday. I should have been happy to have left the matter for discussion on another day—and I hope that it may still be possible to have a more adequate Debate on the matter at some other time—had it riot been for the fact that there are certain aspects of the problem and of the replies given yesterday which ought to be cleared up immediately, because they are likely to have an effect on the morale of the country, and it is very desirable to sustain that morale at the highest level in the difficulties with which we are now confronted and the still greater difficulties that may come in a short time.
I should like, in the first place, to say that, if it were possible in any way, by any sort of scheme, to save the children of all people in the country from the worst horrors and the terrifying experience of war, the House and the country would welcome any such scheme. That is the spirit, I think, which has animated all the evacuation schemes. It has been my privilege to take part in the receiving of children in my constituency from areas which were at that time considered more vulnerable. I can testify to the wonderful spirit in which the working men and women received those children and cared for them. So often, when we discuss evacuation, we deal with it in relation to the place from which the children are evacuated, that perhaps I may now pay this tribute, which is richly deserved, to those working men and women who have received the children in the reception areas. It indicates the great desire there 339 is everywhere to save our children from the scars of war. What a great blessing it would be for this country, and for Europe, if a generation of children could be left unscarred to rebuild the Europe which some day must he built. It was that spirit which prompted us to welcome, in spite of its deficiencies, the scheme which was announced some time ago by the Lord Privy Seal, and was put before the House by the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions, to evacuate a number of children to the Dominions and the United States. We welcomed it, not only because it provided for a number, though a limited number, of children, but also because of the gesture behind the invitation from the Dominions and the United States, who shared our desire that as many of the children of our land for whom accommodation could be found, should be spared the horrors of war.
I believe the announcement yesterday that this scheme had been postponed has come as a shock and a great disappointment to the country. The time which elapsed between the announcement of the scheme and the day when it was postponed seems to me to indicate that it had not been as well thought out and prepared as it should have been. It does not do the Government any good to prepare a scheme, announce it, and then withdraw it. It is desirable that the country should he given a fuller explanation of the postponement than was given in the replies yesterday. The country, I believe, will welcome an announcement to show whether the postponement is really a postponement, or whether it is abandonment. If the scheme is really impracticable, and there is no prospect of it coming into operation in the near future, I think it would be better to abandon it. There is nothing worse than raising people's hopes and then damping them. I do not want to mention the practical difficulties, although the Lord Privy Seal indicated them yesterday, and, I think, he was right in saying that the Government could not accept the responsibility for conveying some thousands of children overseas without adequate protection being provided. But if the practical difficulties make the scheme impossible it would be better to have some definite statement one way or the other. Viewing the situation as it is, 340 I urge the Government to consider abandoning the scheme, if it is unlikely that conditions will change so as to make it practicable in the next few months. If it is possible, however, that the scheme will be practicable in the near future, such a statement would be welcomed by the country, and, if made quickly, it might restore the confidence which I am sure has been lost by the postponement so recently announced.
The particular aspect of the question that I wanted to raise to-night is that, if it is impracticable to take children as proposed in the scheme—to take a cross-section of the British community, all kinds of children from kinds of homes and all classes—and if it is impracticable to operate the scheme, so that from 20,000 to 40,000 children from among the 200,000 applicants should be evacuated, the Government ought not to permit well-to-do children to leave the country. This is of great importance. We are told that a number of children of the well-to-do have already gone to the Dominions and the United States. We get pictures of them in the evening and daily papers—children who have left these shores and have been freed from the scares, the terrors and the fears of war, and who have been able to do so because their parents are in the fortunate position of being able to send The poor children are left behind. The Under-Secretary to the Dominions told us that in June 1,454 children left this country for the Dominions and 298 for the United States. They are children of the well-to-do. They have gone because their parents can afford to pay the fares and to maintain them overseas. The children of the poor are left behind. We are told, too, that more are to be evacuated, although it will be a limited number.
I want to put it very strongly—and I am speaking for Members in every part of this House—that it is very desirable that we should make it impossible for any impression to gain ground in this country that class distinction is to operate at a time like this. I confess that when I saw these pictures in the paper yesterday morning I was bitter and angry and I am still bitter and angry about it. I have been home for the week-end, the saddest week-end in my life, visiting homes that have been bereaved. I have been speaking to schoolmasters who had the job of looking 341 after 400 working-class children in difficult circumstances last week, and I heard on all hands praise for the high standard of conduct maintained by everyone, even by the children. The people pleaded with me to plead with the Government that everything that can be done should be done for them. I found a determination stronger than ever to see this thing through. They pleaded only that they should be given, as quickly as possible, that protection which ought to be given to every borne, every child, and every school in the country. Those are the people who have to stay at home because they cannot afford to go away. What must be their feelings when they see the children of the well-to-do being evacuated from this country? We are all facing a difficult task. There is a tremendous struggle ahead of us which we must and can win, but if we are to win, this people must be one people, sharing the common fate equally. That is the feeling I am bound to express.
Class distinctions are odious at all times, but in times like this, the morale of the country is likely to be broken if the common people feel that they are being left to face it all, while others are going away. The common people, the working-class people, desire to see this thing through. They do not ask for anything more than the ordinary protection which everyone else gets, but they resent it and feel indignant if rich people are looking after their own children and allowing the children of the poor to stand all risks. The country is really disturbed at the fact that it has been announced that the children of Ministers have been evacuated. I say this without any desire to be personal, but because I think it a public duty to say it.
The other day the Prime Minister made a personal appeal to the nation. He sent a copy of his personal message to every Member of Parliament, to every man in public office, urging upon us what is our duty. It is for people who hold responsible positions to show an example to the country. The best example we can show is to be part of the country, sharing our common fate, whatever it is, and I urge that Ministers who send their children away are not showing the best example to the country. They are showing an example which is resented, which makes people indignant, which 342 makes them feel that, after all, this is the old class-ridden Britain, and, believe me, it must be a really democratic Britain for which we fight.
If it is impossible to send children to safety on the other side of the Atlantic—200,000 or 20,000 of them—under a real scheme, taking a cross-section of the children of the country, drawn from all types of homes, then I say, not as a kind of "dog-in-the-manger" policy but in the interests of the country and of the morale of the people, we should stop anybody else's children going. Let us treat all the children alike and give, each one of them, the best protection we can. For the Government to give its consent, even its passive consent, to the children of the rich being evacuated at this time, is not serving the best interests of this country. It is not helping us to win the war and is not keeping up the morale of the country. It is because I feel that strongly that I have felt it my duty to raise this matter to-night, and I ask the Government, in the interests of the unity of the nation, to prevent this exhibition of class distinction at this grave hour.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) for having raised this matter on the Adjournment, because I feel very strongly on this policy of evacuation. I started to think about it six months ago, and have continued to press it for six months, but it is only in the last month or two that the Government have awakened to the fact that it was an essential part of our military policy to carry this scheme into effect. I am disappointed that circumstances have made it impossible for them to carry out the plan which has been devised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. Of course, the Government must be the judge as to what responsibility they can reasonably take in this matter, and in a war of this sort circumstances are bound to change from day to day, but I am at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly in thinking that anything that savours of class distinctions in this matter ought to be ruthlessly stamped out. It was the broad policy laid down by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary which got general approval in the country. He said that he was preparing to have a cross-section of the whole of 343 the children taken out of the country. I have had an opportunity of looking at the organisation, and I must say that it reflects the greatest credit on him and his staff that, in a very short time, they had prepared a most efficient machine which could have carried out this work to the satisfaction of everybody. The way in which they adapted themselves and the speed with which they got to work are something of which the Service should be proud.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
What is the speed with which they got them there? Have you got anybody across there?
§ Major Braithwaite
I am talking about the speed with which the organisation was set up. The Minister had only a few days, but in those few days he got it moving very well. It is not his fault that the scheme is not going forward. The plans were already made and, I believe, would have been carried out by now.
§ Major Braithwaite
I do not want to go into that point at the moment. I have been in touch with the American and Dominion sides of this scheme, and I know that keen disappointment will be felt that the plans are not to be carried out, but both in America and in the Dominions the reasons put forward by the Government will be thoroughly and properly appreciated. I am satisfied that there will be no reaction there, because they know how keenly we are fighting, how determined we are to win, and how the resources of the country must be husbanded. There is another aspect of the scheme. Suppose that America does send ships. I believe she will, because there is very great pressure in the United States to send their own vessels to Ireland to evacuate our children. They are willing to take these children and to send some of them to the Dominions. If America sends these ships, will the Government allow our children to go? Will they allow my hon. Friend's scheme to function? It is only on the basis of this scheme functioning that we can get this proper cross-section of the community. If it is done in a voluntary way, you cannot get the same distribution as you can by a properly conducted scheme. If the 344 facilities were made available to Britain at the present time, I hope the Government would be able to use them.
I have always felt that if the scheme were to be of any use, it must be clone on a big and generous scale, and not as a niggardly scheme which does not contribute very much and creates dissatisfaction in the country. It must he done on a scale which will be substantial.
§ Major Braithwaite
If provision is to be made on a reasonable scale, I hope that the Government will be able to help in some way.
§ Major Braithwaite
It is not for me to say what size this thing must be, except that it must be substantial, If it is to be of any use. I should like to hear from the Minister whether the Government want to put the scheme into cold storage altogether or whether it is postponed for the moment because of the present situation. If things clarify themselves, are the Government prepared to restart the organisation going? If that point is made clear, the country will readily respond to it. But in the meantime I want to tell the House that the American side of the evacuation is proceeding, and children are now daily leaving this country through the American Committee. I was there only two days ago, and they told me that they had registered 4,000 children for whom they proposed to get shipping space in order to get them out as quickly as possible.
§ Major Braithwaite
This is a real effort to help. When you see other countries like the United States of America making this great effort in spite of the Government's cancellation of the scheme, the House must take real cognizance of their desire and determination to make a contribution in this direction. I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs will be able in this scheme to help those children who cannot pay, so that the cross-section of the children even now being carried through the American Committee will be representative of the whole of our population and not representative only of those who can put down 345 the necessary passage money. If the Government's scheme is postponed, the money should be available for those who can go under the American plan, and if the Government can help by subsidising the passages of those who cannot pay, we shall be able to get this properly regulated distribution of evacuation spread over the largest section of the population.
I am very disappointed that the circumstances have made it necessary for the Government to announce their decision in this way. I accept readily their explanation. I know they would not have postponed this scheme if they had seen any reasonable way in which they could have carried it forward. I only hope that it is a postponement and not a final curtailment of the idea. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope his remarks about getting a proper distribution of children from all sections will be thoroughly adhered to and carried out.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I wanted to say one or two words, because I took part in the original Debate and made some criticisms of the scheme of the hon. Gentleman. I would, therefore, like to ask him some further questions now that the scheme has unfortunately had to be postponed. I would like to say to the hon. Gentleman straight away that I share with him the disappointment that he must feel that the scheme has been suddenly postponed like this. I know he must feel very much upset after the work that he has personally put into it. It must be very hard on him. From the outset I have been extremely interested, and have done what I could to publicise and to speak of the scheme. Therefore, any criticism which I may have made has only been because I felt that it was not properly thought out.
I said in the last Debate that I was at a loss to discover whether this was just an interesting addition to migration—in which case I was strongly in favour of it, being one long interested and in favour of migration even more in war-time—or whether it was meant to be a real contribution to the war effort on the lines put forward by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood). But we did not get an answer to that question. The Lord Privy Seal was 346 compelled to intervene after the speech of my right hon. Friend, because I think he was expecting a really big movement. The Lord Privy Seal intervened to say that it was going to be only rather a small movement, and at that moment there seemed to be a damping down of the great expectations which had been aroused in the country. That those expectations were aroused there can be no doubt.
Yesterday afternoon the hon. Member said, in answer to a Question that I put to him, that just under 200,000 applications had come in already, and that, in reply, there were some 20,000 offers from the Dominions. When you are dealing with a problem like migration you must have some correspondence between the offers from the other side and the possibilities of sending children from this side. My hon. Friend must have anticipated sending 200,000 children within a reasonable time, although on my calculations, from the last Debate, it would have taken a year to send about 100,000, so that some of the 200,000 might easily have had to wait for two years. I admit that these were applications. I suppose that there would be more coming in during the coming months, but I do not suppose that every application would have materialised; that was the scale, however, and it would have grown if the success which we all hoped for the scheme had in fact been realised. There could be no better advertisement for the scheme than the letters home from successful applicants. It is wrong to raise that sort of hope among thousands of children and their parents, with all the work that is entailed, unless there is a reasonable expectation that you can send the children out. My complaint is that this was not properly foreseen.
Now we come to the question of the movement of privileged persons, which was raised in the very moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). I, too, spent the last week-end, not in South Wales, but on the North-East Coast, among the friends of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and elsewhere. It is amazing to see what fortitude is shown in the areas where raids have occurred. Therefore, it is with a very peculiar feeling that I endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the privileged people. Do not let us over-estimate the numbers. The num- 347 ber of children leaving for the United States was said by my hon. Friend yesterday to be 306, of whom 298 had their normal residence here. Everybody who has friends in Canada and the United States knows how many times he has been told during the past two months that his friends would be only too glad to take children. That has happened particularly, perhaps, in the case of persons of wealth, because they have been able to travel, and know people in those countries, as certain Ministers do. But I would remind my hon. Friend that in the last Debate the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) put a question, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education replied:I do not know what information the hon. Gentleman has, but I do not know of any such member myself.He was referring to certain members of the Government getting their children out.I am quite sure that no member of this Government will apply to himself a different ruling from that which will apply to the ordinary citizen of the country, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not make any suggestion that there is some way by which a member of the Government could 'wangle' it while ordinary citizens could not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1940; cols. 809–10, Vol. 362.]I think my hon. Friend was quite right.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Ede)
My hon. Friend will recollect that the point put by the hon. Member was in relation to the dollar exchange. I was dealing specifically with the dollar exchange. The context will show that.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Absolutely. I am agreeing with my hon. Friend. I was saying that there was some suggestion of a way in which Members could get their children, and the children of their relatives and friends, sent abroad.
§ Mr. Lindsay
May I go on reading where my hon. Friend in his own inimitable style said:Although it may be charity on the other side of the water," etc.348 This is important and I raised this question before. I do not believe my hon. Friend should have taken any notice of State-aided or any other type of schools but should have put all the schools and children into one category, which would, at any rate, have avoided a certain differentiation within the scheme. I interrupted him time after time during his speech to try to find out whether the children who were going to America were going inside or outside the scheme. I thought—and it was originally laid down—that nobody could go to the United States or Canada without notifying the Children's Overseas Reception Board. Then that was changed. My hon. Friend said in effect, "No we are not keeping a check upon everyone, but as long as there is some sort of balance it is all right." It must have been obvious to him, as it was to us, that there were some hundreds of children going out before the scheme started, and he ought to have foreseen the position.
This is the point I do not quite understand. No hon. Member of this House would for a moment quarrel with what the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday about the shipping position. It is not our business to do so, but two weeks ago we had a Debate in which I specifically asked whether there had been proper liaison between the Ministry of Shipping and the Children's Overseas Reception Board, and whether there were other ships that could be used, as I had heard that ships were going back empty. I asked specifically whether there was further shipping, because, if the Government were to get a move on, they should use every possible ship. And then there came the suggestion from the Under-Secretary that we should attempt to shut down the scheme. It started with a broadcast and then the scheme came down lower and lower, and finally it stopped. I do not think, even with all the emergencies of war, that is quite the best kind of organisation, and I do not think it showed a very great foresight.
There is one further question that I want to ask. There are some unofficial schemes in America. My hon. Friend said in the last Debate, that he was about to see the American Ambassador. Schemes were on foot. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) has apparently been engaged in a scheme for some months, and there 349 are various other Members of this House who themselves have had schemes. It has come to my notice that these schemes have been mentioned in their constituencies, and I want to ask my hon. Friend two questions. Did any member of his organisation give permission to, or in any way countenance, the use of the names of Members of this House in favour of certain schemes, and did my hon. Friend know anything about the schemes? Was it with the permission of Mrs. Roosevelt or other responsible people in the United States that those schemes were arranged, or was it a scheme known to my hon. Friend or some private scheme which no one knew anything about? It is very important. I have been in America and in every State of the Union, and if some scheme is put up by people of the calibre of Mrs. Roosevelt, and others arrange schemes outside the United States, it will put the whole proposal into disrepute in the United States as it might well do in the Dominions.
I want to ask one other question. The Lord Privy Seal said yesterday that it was hoped to resume the scheme whenever possible. If the shipping conditions and state of war prevent any considerable movement let us say so. Do not let us keep the children and parents hanging about month after month, raising their expectations. That is very wrong and, in some ways, cruel. The Lord Privy Seal yesterday said that hitherto, where parents were prepared to take the risk, they could send the children on unescorted ships. Well, children have gone on escorted ships to the United States during the last six weeks and I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman's statement means. It is not quite an accurate description of some of the ships which have already gone.
I do not think I have any other points to put except the general point. It is going back to the difference between those who have gone and those who are going. More and more this is a people's war if ever there was one—
§ Mr. Lindsay
It is absolutely imperative that this scheme should be arranged in accordance with the general conduct of 350 the war—Militia and everything else—which means that all considerations of class are sunk—
§ Mr. Lindsay
That is the hon. Gentleman's view. However, to come back to my point. It was my hon. Friend's idea that this scheme should produce a balanced migration but—perhaps it is not clue to him—he has been tripped up in advance through certain Members and certain people in the country getting their children away. I think the point which has been raised is largely psychological and has created bad feeling in the country. It is, therefore, very important that my hon. Friend should say something to-night to reassure the country that this was unintentional and no part of the scheme which he has done so much to help.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
When we discussed this matter a fortnight ago I expressed my views on the scheme and congratulated my hon. Friend on what he had done and on the organisation he had set up. I do not wish to withdraw anything at all from what I said, but, unfortunately, circumstances have arisen which have called a halt. From every point of view this is most regrettable. Parents, after tremendous internal conflict, had come to decisions to send their children away, perhaps for some years. Indeed, I know cases where parents have said, "We were willing to do it but we will not do it again." The high moment has gone.
At the same time I do think we ought to express our gratitude to all those in the many homes throughout the Empire and the United States where people have come forward of their own free will to try to help us in a way we very much appreciate. Whatever happens to this scheme in future, we can never be sufficiently grateful and we ought to record to the full the feeling we have for the very human actions which have taken place all over the world. If this scheme does not go through, it will be a grave disappointment to the people who are ready and willing to play their part.
I very much hope my hon. Friend will be able to assure us that this is only a regrettable postponement and that he fully 351 intends and expects that after a due interval it will be possible to take up the scheme again and carry it through more or less on the lines originally contemplated. That is what I hope he will say and I would urge the Government to place him in a position to say it. I entirely agree that we must not allow the idea to get into the mind of the public that there is, in connection with sending children overseas, inside or outside the scheme, anything of a class bias or that those who possess money shall be permitted to have any advantage over those who do not. I am afraid the events of the last week or so have given a painful impression about that. A considerable number of people have taken advantage of the freedom that they have. I am not blaming them. They are simply doing what is permitted by law. It is for the Government to act. They have sent their children in unconvoyed ships, perhaps in convoyed ships too, and neutral ships—the "Washington." That is an astonishing thing. With regard to any Ministers who may be involved, I should be very reluctant to say anything personal, but if any Ministers were to go in for a scheme of this kind they would be decreasing their public influence. That is the serious part of it. They would not be listened to with the same sympathy as is the case at present. That is why, from the Government point of view, it would be regrettable. Let the Government lay down the law that it is going to be exactly the same for people of all incomes and all classes and that if any section of people go abroad they shall represent the whole community, and private arrangements which exist at present are not to be allowed to continue.
With regard to the delay, I cannot help thinking there is a certain amount of blame to be placed somewhere. I do not think it falls on my hon. Friend. On 2nd July when this Debate took place, the Petain Government was going to Vichy and General de Gaulle was organising his French supporters over here. Certainly we knew at that time the possibilities with regard to the French fleet. Not only that. The position was in a sense worse than to-day because there was a possibility that the French fleet might fall into the hands of the Germans and be used against us. The position is actually better to-day because we 352 know that cannot happen. There was more uncertainty then than there is today. But let us go back even further. On 20th June the Lord Privy Seal announced that the report of the Departmental Committee had been accepted. That was the day when the Petain Government sent their ple[...]poten[...]aries to meet the Germans. They were on their way to receive the Axis terms. Those terms were finally accepted on 23rd June. Even when the scheme was finally accepted, surely the Government ought to have asked themselves, "Are we sure that out of these negotiations difficult situation may not arise—with regard to what may happen to the French fleet—and we may not be able to guarantee the convoyed passage to these children as we should like to do?"
I cannot help thinking that the position was not sufficiently surveyed. Certainly, that has turned out to be the case, and although there is nothing to be done about it, one is, I think, entitled to make that comment, and to express the hope that it will not happen again. Although this scheme is a very small one—t will affect only a minute proportion of the children of this country—it will have a great psychological value. It will form a link round the world and with the Empire and the United States of America. It is a scheme with which it is well worth going forward, and I urge the Government to take it up again at an early moment, and to see that, in so far as any scheme operates, it will be a general scheme applicable to all classes of the community and that those who have money or position will have no advantage over those who have not.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I do not want to attack the Government on the ground that this is what has been called a class-conscious scheme. I do not believe it is, and I think it is unfair to attack the Government on that basis. They were trying their best—
§ Viscountess Astor
It may have been, but it was not a class-conscious scheme. It was not the Government's fault that people who had money sent their. children out of the country. I would not have done that, but they had a perfect right to do it. The Government tried to make 353 the scheme cover all sections of the community, and I do not think anybody can make the accusation that it was a class-conscious scheme. What I accuse the Government of is not having thought out the scheme properly. When these otters came, we knew exactly what was going to happen. We knew America and Canada, and we understood the children here at home. When I attacked the Government, I said that the scheme ought not to be a departmental scheme, and that they ought to set up a small committee of people who knew the countries—
That is the hon. Member's opinion. We knew that there would be difficulties; we foresaw the difficulties in America, in Canada and here; and I think we are entitled to attack the Government on the ground that they did not think out the scheme. The Under-Secretary started by saying how wonderful things were going to be, but we knew from the very beginning that things would not be as easy as that. The Under-Secretary raised the hopes of every mother in the country. Now that the Government have made this mistake, I hope very much that if they are going through with the scheme, they will let the country know what a very difficult thing it is. I know that in America they thought it was much better organised here than it was. It was not well organised here. There was too much advertisement and very little thought. It is a very difficult thing. Even now, I feel that it may do good and it may do a lot of harm. I do not know. It may be wise to send the children away, or it may be very unwise. Not only the Government, but the country, ought to think more about the matter. When I hear hon. Members say that it will be a splendid thing for the Empire and the United States, I can only say that it may be or it may not be. I remember that in the past, when we had evacuees coming into this country, people received them with great enthusiasm, but, after a while, they got a little bored with them. That happened with the Basque children.
The whole question is fraught with terrific difficulties. I want the House and the country to think much more seriously 354 than they have done about this scheme before it is started. If the Government are to carry out the scheme, I ask them to remember that the children who go abroad must go as ambassadors. The suggestion that we should send out the children whose parents first made application, fills me with horror. What we want are the best children of all sections of the community. The parents who first applied might be parents who wished to get rid of their children. I have had the privilege of getting some children away to Canada. I have a case of a woman in the A.T.S.; another of a social worker looking after thousands of children, and another of a prison officer who was worried about his children. The scheme should be carried out, not on a class basis, but it should relieve people at home from anxiety about their children when they have great work of importance to do. The Under-Secretary seems to take it rather personally when we attack him and his scheme. It is riot because we have any grudge against him, but because we do not think he really understood the position. I think it has been proved that the Government had not thought it out properly.
I know the difficulties. I am receiving many cables. Only yesterday I had a cable from a Southern State in America offering to take 500 children without expense. There is going to be a tremendous demand for them and I do not think it will cost the country very much, but I hope, if the Under-Secretary does go on with the scheme, that he will let the parents at home know what a very risky thing it is. I do not join with those who say that it is all very easy. I hope that in any future scheme, the Government will not be bounded by any Departmental committees, but that they will take the advice of some of those who know something about it. I have been rather horrified at some of the things which have been going on, and the Under-Secretary and the Front Bench know what I am talking about. The country is looking for a scheme, and wants to see it on the right basis, but it will never be on the right basis until you have a broader outlook.
There are difficulties, and I want the House of Commons to remember that if we get America to send their ships—and we may get their ships—to take the children, we may find that certain people in 355 America want to send them back with food for the children in France, and the rest of it. I have seen the danger of it, and we know that anything which goes to Europe goes to Hitler. If the House knew America as some of us do, they would know how difficult it would be from that point of view. They want to help us, and we want them to do so, and I do not doubt that, in time, they will send their ships, but there are other things which may give us trouble. I hope the House will keen an even keel on this matter. I hope, too, that the Government will listen a little to the House of Commons and to people to whom, so far, they have paid little attention. I beg the Under-Secretary not to take it personally if this scheme is attacked. Although it is not perfect, the country is deeply disappointed that it is postponed. The Government must make up their minds what they are going to do and let us know soon.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)
I want to bring the Debate back to where it started, for we are in danger of getting away from what I look upon as a very important subject. Like the hon. Member who opened the Debate, I have felt during this week-end sick at heart at some of the things that have been taking place. I was very doubtful when an hon. Member said In the House some weeks ago that he had sent his children to America. I said with one part of my mind that I approved, and with another part that I disapproved. That part of my mind that was thinking in terms of the children approved of his action, but the other part which was attempting to sense the feeling of the country disapproved strongly. I look upon equality of sacrifice as a willingness to take equality of risk. Nobody's children in this country are any more valuable than the working-class children. The very fact that a parent has money to pay for his children to go across the Atlantic is in circumstances such as these not a justification for sending them, particularly when members of the Government are concerned. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) referred to a letter he had received from the Prime Minister. I have received two letters from the Minister of Information. One of them 356 referred to "The Pointing Finger." It was a very necessary letter, and said that as a man in a public position who would have some influence with people, I was expected to conduct myself in a way which would bring confidence to people with whom I came into contact. I believe that that is vitally necessary at this time, but when one reads in the Press that the children of Ministers have been sent out of the country what is the first reaction? It is that the individual who is asking me to have confidence in my country has not confidence in it himself, and that he has not confidence in the power of our country to defend his own children. I question the right of an individual occupying a responsible position in the Government to send his children out of the country while other children are compelled to remain.
I know there is no possibility of removing danger from all children. What is to be our attitude then? Are we to say that because we cannot save all our children we should try to save none? I take up the attitude that we have no right to differentiate and that there is no difference between children. If I had any doubts about this scheme, they were doubled and trebled after the Noble Lady had spoken. Who is going to choose who are the right and most desirable children? Nobody knows who they are, and unless there is an opportunity of sending all children I question the right to send any.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I questioned the advisability three weeks or a month ago when we discussed the ordinary evacuation. What has happened this week, while this question has been under discussion and causing dismay in some places? I use this as an illustration to show the differentiation that has taken place. I am told that if I write a letter to an individual mentioning that 100 soldiers have removed from one place to another I may be liable to prosecution, and deserve prosecution, and yet 8,000 school children were removed last Sunday from the north-east to what was ostensibly 357 a safer place and the Ministry of Information, through Broadcasting House, let it be known that they were going at a given time, inviting "Jerry," if I may say so, to "drop his apples" where they would be most effective. And then we have the contrast that arrangements can be made for the children of the well-to-do to leave the country.
We have only to ask what is the effect on the morale of the country. It cannot he anything but bad. I want to say emphatically that Ministers who have been guilty of this thing, that Members of the House who have been guilty of it, that people in responsible positions who have been guilty of it, have gone directly contrary to the appeal in the Prime Minister's letter. We send people to gaol for talking defeatism. There is something a good deal worse than talk, and that is example. The example of an individual who at this time takes what I consider to be an unfair advantage of the fact that he is in a position to do something which others have not the apportunity to do and brings safety to himself, is in my judgment, and in the judgment of a great many people in my constituency, doing something which is detrimental to the interests of the country.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary one question. If this scheme is abandoned will he consider the scheme outlined by Sir Evelyn Wrench in the "Times" yesterday to enlist the services of such voluntary bodies as the Overseas League and the English-Speaking Union, which could be used to raise the money and make all the arrangements, provided the Government made it clear that they took no responsibility and that the ships would not be escorted?
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I want to say two things only. The first is that in my opinion the idea of evacuation is in principle utterly wrong: the strength of any nation lies in its families, and the moment you start disrupting the family you start disrupting the nation. My second point is that for my sins I am forced to listen, when I go to other people's houses, to harangues over the wireless from certain Ministers whose opinions I do not always share, and I find it particularly disgusting that those who are urging me and the 358 rest of the nation to hang together and fight are taking advantage of the position they hold, and the foreknowledge they have to evacuate their children overseas.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Shakespeare)
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has raised this question and made certain criticisms in a place where they can be met and where Ministers have a chance, at least, of stating their point of view. As always he raised the subject in exemplary form and I will do my best to answer his points. Before I do so let me take up an interjection which was made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) this afternoon in the form of a supplementary question to which I did not get a chance to reply. It was to the effect that this whole policy should be abandoned because it was a defeatist policy.
I deplore such a description of the Government's policy. Let me remind the House that the balanced migration policy contemplated under our scheme was put forward as the official policy of the Government, endorsed by the War Cabinet and almost unanimously supported in the Debate in this House. I think we had overwhelming support from the country. If this had been a defeatist policy I do not believe that the generous people of the Dominions would have made their offer which was endorsed by all the Dominion Governments, if they had thought that such offers, or the acceptance of them, would have undermined the morale of this country. Nor do I think that many fighting men in all the Services, whom I know personally, would have sought to send their children to safety overseas if they had thought they were taking part in a defeatist policy. I utterly reject that interpretation.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal aptly described this scheme when he intervened in the Debate last week. Very briefly it is a contribution to our Defence programme, but it must, from its very nature, be a limited contribution. Its success depends upon the offers made and on the shipping facilities available. It is obvious that the more non-combatants there are who cannot help our war effort who can be sent to safety overseas, the 359 more easy we shall find the task of defending this country. We cannot get rid of all our non-combatants, but, in so far as we have taken the first step to send overseas these we can, surely we are taking a step in the right direction.
There is one consideration of fundamental importance in connection with our scheme. In so far as we have a scheme, it must be without any discrimination and must apply to parents whatever their circumstances.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The House agreed last week that we had tried to achieve that object. The hon. Member for Llanelly and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) asked whether this was a genuine postponement. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) also put this point very clearly. He pointed out the great disappointment felt in all parts of this country, and in families in the Dominions and the United States, that the Government should come to a decision to postpone the scheme. Nearly every speaker asked[...] "Is this a genuine postponement? If so, when can the scheme be resumed?" I can only tell the House that I have been instructed to carry on making the necessary arrangements. I am to get into touch with all the parents, see that the letters of acceptance are sent out and that the consent of the parent or guardian is obtained. All that will take some time. If and when the situation improves, there will be no delay, and we shall be given an opportunity to get the children to safe refuge.
That should be a reassurance to the House. Clearly, it is not possible to say when that time will arrive. The Lord Privy Seal made it plain that the only reason for the postponement was the military situation, and I think the House accepted it as inescapably true. Therefore, if and when that situation is relieved the natural assumption is that the scheme will be resumed, and I am proceeding on that basis. The hon. Member for Llanelly and one or two others raised in this House a question that should be raised in this House.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. These statements were made outside the House and I very much welcome their repetition in the House because it gives me a chance of answering them. The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) put it strongly. He asked, why should anyone be allowed to remain in public life when in fact he was sending his children overseas while, at the same time, children of working-class parents were compelled to keep their children in this country? That is not too strong, and that is how the argument has been put in the country. I ask hon. and right hon. Gentleman to remember these facts. It is perfectly true that colleagues of mine in the Government and Members of Parliament on all sides of the House have been giving their children the opportunity of safety in the Dominions.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)
Will the hon. Gentleman give an indication of how many Members of this House have signified their wish that their children should go?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I do not know. I have seen statements in the Press, as no doubt other hon. Members have, and I do not think there is any reason to think they are untrue. I do know that Members from all sides have sought this opportunity.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
May I finish? When my colleagues took this decision it was only when the Government's scheme was open for working-class children to take the same opportunity. I want to make one further point.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
May I finish my argument on this point, and I will then 361 willingly give way? I want to make one further point clear. I am not responsible for the decisions of parents who wish to avail themselves of the Government's scheme as to whether or no they sent their children overseas, and still less am I responsible for the decision of parents outside the Government's scheme. But I do personally resent the very unfair attacks and insinuations that have been made, not in tins House, but outside. I appreciate that the duty of Lord Haw Haw is to be as malicious as he can. I have heard of members of the fighting Forces who have been decorated in this war, and who, like my colleagues or Members of the House, since it was announced that this opportunity was open to all, have in fact availed themselves of the opportunity to send their children overseas. Why should this be thrown in the teeth of these men, as though they were doing something which is unworthy, and why should it be thrown in the teeth of one right hon. colleague of mine whose reputation for gallantry and bravery and for his physical and moral courage is unchallengeable? I should have thought that was beyond question.
Not only was he decorated in the last war for personal bravery, but he gave up what I consider to be the finest post in the Government, that of First Lord of the Admiralty, because he disagreed with the then Prime Minister on the Munich policy. To accuse my right hon. Friend, whose gallantry and courage, moral and physical, are a byword in this country, of lacking the fighting spirit because he got for his own child what the Government were offering for all, is the meanest thing that could be done.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The Under-Secretary stated that other Members of this House had taken advantage of the scheme. Did the other Members come under the Government scheme, or did they make their arrangements privately? That is the point that is causing soreness in the whole of the British Isles.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The Members to whom I have referred were making their own private arrangements, as they could 362 afford to do, but only when the Government gave a chance to the working-class children to enjoy these facilities. I do not intend to give any names, except for the one name which has been given. But these names have been given in the papers.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Is it intended that working-class children shall be allowed to go, so long as the others can?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
That is a reasonable request to make. It was met by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose, who pointed out that, in spite of the Government's postponement of the scheme, there was a good opportunity for the children of grant-aided schools to be taken overseas. It may be that the voluntary effort mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) may bear fruit, but I am quite sure that, although the scheme has been postponed, the effect wilt not be discrimination in favour of the rich. Working-class children will have a very good chance, through philanthropic bodies, of getting overseas.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Might I ask my hon. Friend for an assurance that there will be no discrimination against the rich?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
The inference has been made that I had suggested that somebody had been lacking in physical or moral courage. I am not calling either the physical or the moral courage of any member of the Government into question. I am calling into question the advisability of certain members' actions.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I do not think my hon. Friend would ever make such an accusation. But there was a criticism, and I answered it. Perhaps the House will allow me to answer three or four questions of great importance. One was from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckros[...] asked whether, if the United States send American ships to fetch British children, the Government will accept the offer. My reply is, of course, that that offer has not yet been made, but when it is 363 officially made I am quite sure that the Government would immediately consider it.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Had the scheme been operated, it was the desire of the United States to get a cross-section of the British children. In the same way, if they send American ships, I presume they would wish the same balanced migration. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) again accused the Government of not thinking out this scheme. I fail to understand on what arguments he based his criticism. He asked whether it was a contribution to the war effort, or whether it was a migration scheme. It has a limited aspect of both. Following the same line of argument, he went on to say that if an application had been made in respect of 200,000 children and there were only 20,000 vacancies, that was evidence that the Government had not thought out the scheme. I fail to understand that argument. One might just as well say that if a job is going and too many people apply for it, the job should not have been offered.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Even that argument is not well-founded. The original offer of 20,000 places in the Dominions has now been increased to 50,000.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
It was in all the newspapers, and there is no secret about it. Australia, instead of offering to take 5,000, is offering to take 35,000, and the scheme is extended to that extent. When I referred to 20,000 originally, I was not including the possibility of America coming forward in the generous way in which one expected that America would come forward. If one included the 50,000 from America, there would be 100,000 vacancies. It could not therefore be said that the scheme had not been thought out. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) had a pertinent question as to why the Government had not envisaged the possibility of having to shelve the scheme on account of the naval situation. As far as I remember the scheme operated as 364 from 20th June and on that day the French Army was still fighting and the French Fleet was with us.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I think I am giving away no secret now when I state that the Government had fixed up in respect of the first movement of children a sufficient escort, but it was only when the position deteriorated that the whole position affecting our children changed. Neither I nor the Government were to blame for that. Personally, I think the Gavernment were right in taking up the position that if children were assisted overseas under a Government scheme, the great bulk of them having their fares paid and going under Government auspices, they should have adequate naval protection. I hope that hon. Members will not blame us or the Government because in fact the situation has changed.
§ Mr. Mander
What about the Debate on 2nd July when the situation was entirely different and the Government went on as if nothing had happened?
§ Mr. Lindsay
Did not my hon. Friend say that the Government expected getting the children away at the rate of 7,000 or 8,000 a month? And if there were 200,000 applications it would mean something like two years.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
No such statement was ever made by me. I believe it was made as to the normal potential capacity. But, to take up the point of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, 2nd July was the date of the Debate, and hon. Members will agree that there had been no attack on the French Fleet up till then. It was still allied to us and fighting for us—
§ Mr. Shakespeare
It was not until after that Debate—and if hon. Members disagree they can look it up to-morrow morning—that action was taken at Oran, and not until several days later did the 365 Prime Minister announce that to the House. To the Noble Lady the hon. Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor), who raised a number of points, I would say that I never said that children who applied first would go.
§ Viscountess Astor
I am very sorry to interrupt. You did say that the Committer had so many applications that you might have to take those who applied first.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
That is not correct. The Under-Secretary said no such thing.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I do not take any criticism which the hon. Lady makes as any personal attack on myself but I do not think her criticisms of the scheme are well founded. However, as we are both enthusiasts for it I do not see any reason why we should quarrel. If she has any advice to give me I shall be very glad to receive it.
I hope I have been able to meet the insinuations which are being made outside the House and allay the natural and inevitable disappointment that the House, the country, the Dominions and the United States of America, feel. One only 366 hopes that the military situation will so improve that we might be allowed to go on with what would be a contribution to our Defence programme and for the good of mankind.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Will it still be possible for people to go out to Canada and the United States outside the scheme, as it is because that was allowed that this trouble has arisen?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
If the scheme is renewed exactly the same conditions will operate. Migration outside the scheme will still go on, because people between 16 and 60 are going out on missions of national importance. Persons over 60 are going out and children under five and between five and 16 are going out and there is no reason why they should not continue to do so.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.