Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £70, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with the Refugee problem for the year ending on the 3rst day of March, 1944, namely:
|Class II., Vote 1, Foreign Office||10|
|Class II., Vote 2, Diplomatic and Consular Services||10|
|Class II., Vote 4, Dominions Office||10|
|Class II., Vote 7, Colonial Office||10|
|Class II., Vote II, India and Burma Services||10|
|Class III., Vote I, Home Office||10|
|Class X., Vote 6, Ministry of Health (War Services)||10|
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
For some time past there has been a desire in many quarters of the House to have a Debate on the refugee problem. The date of the Debate has been postponed from time to time while the Bermuda Conference was sitting, and I understand that it is now the desire that the Debate should be on the widest possible footing, and for that reason all the relevant Votes have been put on the Paper. I regret very much that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who led the British Delegation at Bermuda with great ability, is detained on the other side of the Atlantic 1118 by important Government business. I am, however, glad to have not very far from me my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, whose personal qualities endeared him not only to his British colleagues but to our American counterparts, and whose wide knowledge both of shipping and of Colonial problems was of outstanding value to our discussions.
For many years the refugee problem has been a matter of deep concern, and has received the most earnest attention from His Majesty's Government. Before the war, apart from the situation in China, it was, from the advent of the Nazi regime until October, 1938, mainly if not exclusively a Jewish problem and a problem confined to Europe. After 1938 there was added the exodus from Czechoslovakia and from Poland. The Committee are, of course, aware of the admirable work done in the refugee field by the League of Nations High Commission. In 1938, on the initiative of President Roosevelt, a meeting was summoned at Evian, and the Inter-Governmental Committee was formed, first under the chairmanship of Mr. Myron Taylor, who was shortly afterwards succeeded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). The Inter-Governmental Committee was designed to take effective action under the circumstances existing when it was formed. It was an executive body. It had an executive director. Its mandate, however, which was adopted at Evian, restricted its scope to refugees from Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, and it acted under the stipulation that the maintenance and transport of refugees was not to be at the cost of Member Governments. In these circumstances it was natural and inevitable that its efforts should have come to a conclusion on the outbreak of war.
I shall have something more to say later with regard to this Committee, which represented some 32 nations interested in the refugee problem. I would only at this stage express the debt of gratitude which we owe to its executive director, Sir Herbert Emerson, who combined with this office the position of High Commissioner for Refugees under the League of Nations organisation. He has been untiring in his efforts on behalf of refugees, and many fruitful suggestions have come from him from time to time. He has a 1119 unique knowledge of the refugee problem, and the memoranda which he furnished for our use at Bermuda were of the greatest possible value.,lb/> It will, I think, be for the convenience of the Committee if at the outset I make a few introductory observations on the refugee problem, particularly as it affects the British Empire, in order to supply the necessary background. I will then pass on to give some account of the Conference of Bermuda, and to state the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the Report and recommendations which the Conference made.
The refugee problem to-day is worldwide. No one can estimate the number of actual refugees, and the infinitely greater number of would-be refugees, resulting from the aggression of Germany, Italy and Japan in all quarters of the globe. If anyone desires to get a picture of the part played by Great Britain, India and by our Colonial and Mandated territories in contributing to the solution of this problem, I would refer them to the lengthy statement made by the Prime Minister in a written answer on 7th April to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley). It will there be seen that India—I begin my survey in the Far East —has received and supported over 400,000 refugees. Moving westwards, they will see there set out the contribution made by Palestine, where 300,000 persons, Jewish immigrants, have been received since 1919. The East African Colonies have also given accommodation and relief to a large number of war refugees. They will find in that statement also a reference to the Polish refugees who arrived in Persia last year, numbering some 40,000 persons who have come directly under our wing, and who are seldom, if ever, mentioned by those who continually strive to belittle the part which we are playing in this refugee problem. Finally, turning to Europe, there are in the enemy-occupied territories alone some 120,000,000 people in countries which have become the victims of Axis aggression and who would, for the most part, if they could, escape from the territories in which they are held prisoner.
I need not stress the barbarous character of the Nazi régime in Europe. 1120 According to a recent speech by our Ambassador in Washington, no less than 8,000,000 people in Poland since the outbreak of war have suffered barbarous punishment or death. Similar conditions apply in other occupied countries. There can be no doubt that the policies of labour conscription, of deportation and of extermination, are being applied, not only to the Jews, but to other large sections of European peoples. It is impossible not to feel burning indignation at these horrors, and it is natural that civilised people should desire every possible step to be taken to bring them to a conclusion and to punish those responsible. We must, however, recognise that these people are for the present mostly beyond the possibility of rescue. It is not a question of the unwillingness of neighbouring countries to receive them. They are hemmed in, and the frontiers over which they would cross are constantly patrolled by the Gestapo and by Nazi armed forces. The avenues of escape from this reservoir of suffering humanity are few and dangerous. I trust that nothing said in the course of this Debate will have the result of interfering with them. As hon. Members know, there are considerable numbers of Greek and Yugoslav refugees in the Middle East. There are refugees who find their way into various European countries. There are others who arrive directly at our shores. The rate of outflow varies at different times and in different places. The total number who have made their escape is of course infinitesimal in proportion to the size of the problem as a whole.
We must, I think, recognise that the United Nations can do little or nothing in the immediate present for the vast numbers now under Hitler's control. He is determined not to let those people go. The rate of extermination is such that no measures of rescue or relief, on however large a scale, could be commensurate with the problem. Every week and every month by which victory is brought nearer will contribute more to their salvation than any diversion of our war effort in measures of relief, even if such measures could be put into effect. In another place, on 23rd March, the Archbishop of Canterbury, following the lead of Mr. Victor Gollancz in his pamphlet, "Let my people go," put forward a suggestion of what he described as a direct offer to the German Government. There is no indica- 1121 tion whatever that any such offer, if made. would meet with anything but a negative response. (An HON. MEMBER: "Make it.") Everything points in exactly the opposite direction. The House will remember that on 3rd February, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced an arrangement under which 4,000 children would be sent from South Eastern Europe to Palestine accompanied by a smaller number of adults. Even in this measure of humanitarian relief delays and difficulties have arisen, not of our making, which have so far prevented this arrangement being carried into effect. If obstacles are placed in the way of a comparatively small measure for the relief of Jewish children from South Eastern Europe, what hope could be expected from a much larger proposal addressed to Germany for the relief and rescue of adults? I am glad to see that the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has not repeated in her latest pamphlet the Archbishop's suggestion.
Our glorious victories in Africa have brought substantially nearer the day of ultimate victory. Any slackening of our war effort or any delay to shipping in the attempted rescue of refugees could only delay the day of victory and result in the infliction of greater suffering on the subjugated peoples of Europe. I do not think there will be any doubt on this issue in the minds of reasonable people, but some fantastic suggestions have been put forward. For example, it has been suggested that we should exchange, or endeavour to exchange, prisoners of war and civilian internees in our hands for would-be refugees now under Axis domination. I do not think our Armies would thank us if we offered to hand back to Germany the 100,000 or 150,000 prisoners which they have just taken in North Africa. As regards civilian internees, of whose cause the hon. Lady has been such an active protagonist in the past, some have already been repatriated. Of those still remaining interned, it would be the sheerest cruelty to return some of them into Axis hands, and as regards the few hundreds of others, there would be security objections of the most formidable character to sending them back to Germany.
1122 The aspect of the matter with which we have endeavoured and can endeavour to deal is the assistance of refugees who have already reached neutral or Allied territory. Hon. Members will realise that neutral countries in Europe are subject not only to pressure from the United Nations on behalf of refugees but also to pressure from the Axis Powers in the opposite direction. The effectiveness of our diplomatic representation has no doubt been greatly enhanced by our recent victories. It is, therefore, most important that nothing should be said in the course of this Debate which would cause these countries embarrasment. I would, however, say that the number of refugees now in the countries which we might describe as countries of primary refuge probably does not exceed 50,000 to 60,000. Of these 50,000 a considerable number, of coarse, are in Switzerland, whence no further transfer is geographically possible without re-entering Axis-controlled territory. As regards the remainder the man in the street may well ask what object is to be achieved by the transfer of refugees from neutral countries to more distant places of refuge? Why, of all places, he may ask, should refugees be transferred from a place of temporary safety to a country like Great Britain, which is subject to attack from the air, where accommodation is limited and which is dependant upon our gallant Merchant Service for a large part of its necessary supplies.
There are, I think, two answers to this question. In the first place, the burden on these neutral States who have generously received these people may become unduly heavy if the refugee population continually increases. It is desirable to show them that other countries are prepared to give them help. Secondly, many of these people are anxious and willing to assist the Allied war effort. Seeing that we are all agreed that final victory is the only sure solution it really cannot be wrong to give priority in the work of rescue to those who will contribute to this end. Of those who are unable, for various reasons, to make such a contribution, many are refugees from various parts of Europe who found their way to safety in the early days of the war, or who have moved more recently after spending the time intervening between the fall of France in June, 1940, 1123 and its complete occupation in November, 1942, in unoccupied French territory.
In the three years 1940, 1941 and 1942, 63,000 refugees were admitted to Great Britain, and that, of course, excludes the large number of British refugees from the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and elsewhere. In the last five months, the period in which it is alleged that nothing has happened and there has been unnecessary delay, a further 4,000 people have arrived here. Our diplomatic and consular representatives have been working day and night, often under great difficulties, upon this task, and the very greatest credit is due to them for their untiring efforts. This country has a unique record since December last in the admission of 4,000 refugees. No hon. Member can point to any other country which has a record which can be compared at all with that figure. I doubt if any other country has admitted a quarter of that number in the corresponding period, but if I mention it with some pride I trust I shall not be taken to make the slightest reflection on any other country whose geographical situation has been less favourable and to which transport has not been available to the same degree.
I must pass for a moment to say a few words, and to dispel, if I can, a few illusions, in regard to the grant or refusal of visas, for which the Home Office is responsible. A visa, or even the promise of a visa if a refugee reaches neutral territory, is apparently regarded as giving an assurance of safe conduct to this country. That is a misunderstanding which would be pitiful if it were not so mischievous. Visas are regarded as something like railway tickets which must be obtained in every case by refugees seeking admission to this country and which are only granted after weeks and months of delay. It is suggested that these imaginary tickets might be made available in blocks to our consular representatives abroad who could issue or promise to issue them to all corners. The facts are very different. A visa is not a ticket, nor is it a condition precedent in every case to entry into this country. A visa is an endorsement placed on a passport or other document of identity by a diplomatic or consular officer who acts under instructions which involve reference to this country of cases falling outside certain categories.It is only prima facie 1124 evidence to the Immigration Officer that leave to land may be granted under the Aliens Order.
This procedure, however, of granting visas has been very largely suspended in the case of refugees, and the suggestion to put at the discretion of consular officers a certain number of visas, described as a "block," which he could grant without reference home, would be a limitation rather than an advance upon the existing practice. In addition to the persons who obtain visas under existing conditions, many thousands of refugees from enemy-occupied countries have arrived, and are still arriving, without visas, and no refugee who has reached this country without a visa has been turned back.
I hope this statement of the plain truth may remove some serious misconceptions, and I hope I have made it clear that there is no machinery in existence nor is any conceivable in present circumstances for giving visas or the promise of visas to persons in enemy or enemy-occupied territory. The suggestion that visas should be promised to such persons is really asking the impossible. We should be pledging ourselves in advance to receive persons about whom we know nothing and whom we could not identify. There is no evidence that even if it were possible to communicate such a promise to the individual for whom it was intended, it would in any way assist him to escape from enemy territory. On the contrary, it would be an additional element of difficulty and danger if it came to the knowledge of the enemy from whom the refugee was trying to escape.
I have here a pamphlet, which no doubt, has had a very wide circulation and has found its way into the hands of hon. Members. The pamphlet is entitled "Rescue the Perishing," and it is written by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). It is issued under the auspices of the National Committee for Rescue from Nazi Terror. This organisation has a long and distinguished list of vice-presidents, including the two Archbishops, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council, the Very Reverend the Chief Rabbi, Sir William Beveridge, Professor Brodetsky, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, and so forth. No 1125 doubt we shall hear more about it in the course of the Debate. The pamphlet is, as I say, written by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities, and an appeal is made to readers to show their feeling on this matter by all the usual methods of democratic expression, including letters to their Members of Parliament and letters to the Press and letters to various Ministers whose addresses are supplied. Under the heading of Chapter 7, "Examples of the harsh working of the Home Office Regulations," is mentioned the case—it is the first case —of "Refugees still in enemy-occupied territory," which the hon. Lady has given me notice she intends to raise in this Debate. I will, if I may, read it to the Committee:Aged Jewish couple in Berlin had a son in Istanbul, a naturalised Turk. On January 4th the son cabled to his sister in London, saying he could get Turkish visas for parents if London told its Consulate in Istanbul that a United Kingdom visa would be given. Asked for immediate reply, as parents in danger. The sister [that is the sister in this country] by advice of the Home Office cabled her brother that British visa impossible while parents in enemy territory. She has just heard from her brother that her parents were deported to Poland on February 28th (i.e., about eight weeks after refusal of British visas which might have saved them). This confirms her belief that her brother had secret means of communicating with parents and helping their escape. Even if this belief illusory refusal is a bad example to Turkey. She writes: I just cannot bear it. I would feel better if England had tried to help even without success.The hon. Lady's comment on that is that the caseillustrates the value—denied by the Home Secretary—of United Kingdom visas in helping escape from enemy territory.I shall be very sorry, but I shall also be very surprised, if this aged couple are deported to Poland. Many readers of the paragraph which I have quoted must have thought that the Home Secretary was devoid of all decent humanitarian feeling. Knowing the facts—which, of course, are never known in full to the person who puts forward a case such as this—what does not surprise me is that this gentleman in Turkey has secret means of communicating with his parents in Berlin. The fact is that the gentleman who makes this appeal is a naturalised Turk, who occupies an important position in a firm at Constantinople which has the agency of the leading German armament manufacturers —Krupps, of Essen. He claims to have 1126 negotiated very large sales of armaments to Turkey, and, no doubt, part of his business, when he is not engaged in selling arms, is to obtain information about the arms supplied by other countries and to forward this information to his masters in Germany. He asks us to promise visas to this country for two persons whom we have never seen and whom, if they came here, we could not identify. I lust mention this case, which the hon. Lady has continually thrown at our heads and has referred to in speeches and pamphlets. It is said to be a hard case and one in which we ought to have promised visas to these persons who are now in Berlin. Really, the only possible result of granting a visa in that case would be the moral certainty that the persons who reached our shores would be German secret service agents.
(Combined English Universities): I do not want to interrupt the Under-Secretary, but may I say this? I was not aware of the position of that man in relation to Germany, but even supposing the facts to be as alleged, the man appealed for his parents, and he has got an assurance from the Istanbul authorities that he could get Turkish visas, if he first got British visas. Suppose that he had got his parents into Turkey and that then they were passed on here. The facts mentioned by my right hon. Friend being known here, could not they have been straightway put into an Isle of Man internment camp? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Why not? It would be a great mistake to argue from this one case. If there are certain facts about this man of the kind suggested, I am fully convinced that the sister, at any rate, is ignorant of all that, and that they were really anxious about the aged parents. If the aged parents were so safe in Berlin, why was he anxious to get them into Turkey; and anyhow, how can you argue from the facts of a particular case—
§ Mr. Peake
I do not want to get into a dispute with the hon. Lady. I have stated the facts to the Committee. We at the Home Office cannot bring ourselves to believe that the parents of a man occupying an important position in a firm which acts for Krupps in Constantinople are in serious danger, or that we ought to facilitate their escape from German territory by promising them visas to this country.
1127 I want to deal now with the question of the issue of visas to persons in those countries which are now neutral. As regards persons who have reached countries of primary refuge, there is no evidence to show that if visas had been issued more freely, more refugees would have arrived here. Transport is an overriding difficulty in the whole of the refugee problem. The grant of visas, in order not to cause widespread disappointment, has, therefore, been made dependent upon some advantage resulting to one national interest and to our war effort. The classes of persons who are at present eligible for visas are certain specially qualified technicians and doctors; officials of Allied Governments and their wives; persons willing to serve in the Allied Forces and their wives and children and also the wives and children of persons already here and so serving, and in certain cases their fiancees. Visas are also granted in other cases to children of persons already here or of persons who are not already here, but are entitled to visas. Finally visas are available to children who have a near relative in this country.
As regards children, I should like, once and for all, to make it clear that throughout this difficult period there have been more offers of visas available for children from different parts of the world, than there have been children able to avail themselves of them. It is inevitable, under any policy of definition such as I have described, that some hard cases will arise. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given most careful consideration to these cases, and he proposes from henceforward, as some contribution towards meeting them and as an earnest of our good will, to make the following extensions of the categories of individuals who are now eligible for special consideration:—
In regard to these extended categories, it should be made clear that they are only 1128 of persons eligible and that, of course, security considerations will in all cases be paramount. Furthermore, it should be emphasised that all or any of the persons coming in under the present policy may be subject to internment on arrival here, pending a full security examination of their cases. Nor can it be taken, of course, that the grant of a visa at the present time implies that the person to whom it is granted will be able to remain here after the termination of hostilities.
- (i) Parents of persons serving in His Majesty's or Allied Forces, or in their Mercantile Marines.
- Persons of other than Allied nationality willing to join His Mapesty's Forces and who are certified to be fit and acceptable for them.
- (iii) Parents of children under 16 who are already here and who came here unaccompanied.
I am afraid I am detaining the Committee rather long, but it is necessary that I should deal adequately with some of the charges made against the Government during the past five months. There has been a regular spate of propaganda issued by people who feel very deeply upon this matter, people whose minds are haunted and tormented by visions of what is going on in Germany and Poland. Some of this propaganda is unfair. We at the Home Office are not unaccustomed to propaganda which we, at any rate, consider unfair, and we try to remind ourselves that we must regard this sort of activity with toleration. I recall what Macaulay said in one of his speeches on the Reform Bill, about the effect of distress on the human mind. He said:We know what effect distress produces, even on people more intelligent than the great body of the labouring classes can possibly be. We know that it makes even wise men unstable, unreasonable, credulous, eager for immediate relief, heedless of remote consequences. There is no quackery in medicine, religion or politics, which may not impose even on a powerful mind when that mind has been disordered by pain or fear.That quotation gives me some comfort when I read such a letter as that which the Bishop of Chichester addressed to "The Times" yesterday morning. The Bishop said:It is quite certain that if the British and American Governments were determined to achieve a programme of rescue in some way commensurate with the vastness of the need, they could do it.He makes no attempt to indicate what is the programme of rescue which he suggests. It is quite true that we have our programme of rescue, and that programme is victory, and we are equally sure we can achieve it, but that, I think, is riot the programme which the Bishop has in mind. I wish he would tell us what his programme is, because in the first two paragraphs of his letter he makes a subtle suggestion that nothing 1129 has happened since 17th December when he says:It will be almost exactly five months after the declaration of December 17.I wish he would tell us what his solution is, because we have waited for five months, and there has been no suggestion from the Bishop as to what his programme of rescue is. I have searched Hansard for the House of Lords ever since that date and have failed to find any speech by the Bishop on this subject at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet) rushed into print on the second or third day of the Bermuda Conference, and in a letter to "The Times", published that day, he suggested that there would be widespread indignation unless the Conference initiated immediate measures of rescue on a scale adequate to the need. He really does seem to me, if I may say so, to have misunderstood the purpose of the Conference. Conferences do not take executive decisions. The purpose of the Conference was to confer, to analyse the facts, to examine possible methods of relief and to reach agreed conclusions and recommendations between the United States and British Governments as a preliminary to wider international collaboration.
I now turn, if I may, to the statement which has been the subject of agreement with the United States authorities on the outcome of the Bermuda Conference. I should like to express our appreciation of the cordial spirit of co-operation shown by the United States Government Delegates. They approached, as I think I may say the British Delegation did also, this complex and difficult problem with realism but at the same time with constructive suggestions. After an exhaustive examination of all its aspects, we were able to agree on a Report which. makes a considerable number of definite practical recommendations. This agreed Report involves military questions and has other aspects which make it necessary that it should be kept strictly confidential, but I can reveal in general outline what the two Delegations set out to do and indicate, so far as is in the interest of the refugees themselves, what it accomplished.
The basis for discussions at the Conference is to be found in the United States Government's Note of 26th February, which was published in the Press. The 1130 points set out there may be summarised as follow: Firstly, the refugee problem should not be considered as being con- fined to persons of any particular race or faith; secondly, international collaboration should endeavour to provide arrangements for temporary asylum for refugees as near as possible to the areas in which they are to be found at the present time; thirdly, plans should be considered for the maintenance in neutral countries in Europe of refugees whose removal cannot be arranged; fourthly, the possibilities of temporary asylum, with a view to repatriation upon the termination of hostilities, in countries other than neutral countries, should be explored, together with the question of the availability of shipping for transport and supply; and, fifthly, examination of the precise method of organising concerted action and providing the necessary executive machinery. It was on this basis that the Delegations settled their agenda, and determined the scope of their discussions.
At the outset they agreed in rejecting, as contrary to the settled policy of both Governments, and calculated to injure the United Nations war effort, any proposal for general negotiations with the German Government to release potential refugees. They also rejected the suggestions made in some quarters that military prisoners in Allied hands should be exchanged against civilians, and that food should be sent in to selected groups of potential refugees. On the positive aspect of the problem, they agreed that shipping was of crucial importance. Accepting the principle that winning the war in the shortest possible time was the best service which their respective Governments could render to the refugees and to all those who are suffering under German tyranny, they concluded that it would be a grave disadvantage not only to the Allied, but to the refugee, cause to divert shipping from essential war needs to the carriage of refugees. There were, however, other possibilities, and though I cannot at this stage describe them in detail, I can assure the Committee, that they are being actively studied with a view to practical results.
One thing which the delegates established was that, in spite of the contrary impression given in certain quarters, Great Britain and the United States are regularly accepting a continuous flow of refugees for admission to home and 1131 Colonial territories. A thorough and systematic study was made of the position of refugees who have reached and are still reaching neutral countries. It was recognised that alternative destinations must be found for these as far as possible, and that all those countries who had so generously received, and were continuing to receive, refugees were entitled to some assurance that they will not be expected to shoulder unaided and indefinitely a burden in the carrying of which there should be the fullest measure of international co-operation. This presupposed an efficient machinery of international consultation, collaboration and action. Precise recommendations on this subject were agreed to by the Delegations and made to their respective Governments. His Majesty's Government are in fullest agreement that the most effective way of planning the rescue and settlement of persons who have had the opportunity of escaping the horrors of deportation, and, it may be, death, in Europe would be through an Inter-Governmental Committee, constituted on the widest basis and with all possible means of action at its disposal.
Side by side, however, with this project for the establishment of effective and permanent machinery, the two Delegations carefully examined all the contributions which their respective Governments could individually make to a solution of the problem. The general conclusions of both Delegations were, that while it would be creating a cruel illusion to hold out any hope of a solution commensurate with the terrible seriousness and complexity of the problem, other than speedy and final victory, far more was being done for the refugees by both countries than was generally appreciated, and that within the limits imposed by the inexorable demands of the war effort there were a number of hopeful possibilities for the future. His Majesty's Government are now studying these with the greatest care, and the United States Government, whose active and sympathetic interest in the refugee problem dates back so many years, are doing the same. Progress in this humanitarian but immensely difficult enterprise is in large measure dependent upon the widest and most complete measure of understanding between the British and American Governments.
1132 I regret that, in dealing with so vast a subject, I have kept the Committee so long. In some respects it would have been an advantage, and certainly I could have spoken much more freely, had the Debate been held in Secret Session. But the House and the country, with good cause, I think, dislike Secret Sessions. Moreover, there has been widespread public interest in this problem, and much has been written and spoken about it, not always with great discretion, and by no means in every particular calculated to advance the cause which the authors, equally with His Majesty's Government, have at heart. I think, therefore, that some fuller statement in public was necessary. I only hope that nothing I have said will have any unfortunate effects. I hope, also, that what I have said, in regard to our own contribution, more especially in recent months; secondly, in regard to the extension of the classes of persons who may be considered for admission to the United Kingdom; and finally—and most important of all—in regard to the establishment of permanent and effective international machinery, will do something to convince the Committee and the country that the Government are, and always have been, in earnest on this matter; and that, while the United Nations press on to the day of retribution and victory, the Bermuda Conference was not an expedient for delay, but a real step forward on the road that leads to liberation.
§ Mr. Silverman
(Nelson and Colne): Now that the fuller statement which the right hon. Gentleman thought it desirable to make in public has been made, is it his intention to have a Secret Session, to enable him to say those other things that he says could have been said in Secret Session?
(Combined English Universities): It is clearly difficult for me to follow my right hon. Friend, because there has been so much that he has not been able to tell us and so much which he hinted it would be dangerous to discuss in public. We feel like the schoolboy who was asked to write an essay on snakes in Ireland, and who could only say that there were no snakes in Ireland. There is so much that we are debarred from saying, and so much that it would be imprudent to say. 1133 We can all say, however, that we are glad to see my right hon. Friend and his colleagues who went to Bermuda with him, back from that dangerous journey—because all journeys are dangerous nowadays. That is the only pleasurable emotion that we can have on this subject. My right hon. Friend's whole speech seemed to be a plea for gratitude for what the Government have done in the past and for what they vaguely foreshadow may be done under the decisions of the Bermuda Conference. That is to ask for gratitude for very small mercies.
Let me first deal with the positive side. It is difficult to deal with the points at all fully, as they were stated in such vague terms, but we gather that some effort is to be made to draw off the overflow from those neutral countries which are receiving refugees. My right hon. Friend explained that that is a really necessary concession, because those countries into which the refugees first get are not safe countries. We all know the possible dangers, and I am not going to enlarge upon them. Also, although he mentioned that in many cases the frontiers are closed, we all know that it makes all the difference in the world to the chances of refugees slipping over those frontiers if the burden is not going be too heavy on the neutral countries and they feel that they have some chance of passing on the overflow.
We should all like to hear a great deal more about whatever help is to be given to neutral countries. So much will depend upon how many refugees they will perhaps not formally admit, but may allow to slip in. We should like to know whether the neutral countries themselves are satisfied with what has been offered to them. Are the proposals of the Conference going to achieve their purpose, which is not to relieve the burdens of neutral countries for their own sakes—they have not the burdens that we have to bear in fighting a terrible war—but to encourage them to take in refugees? I stress the point because a great deal was said by the United States representative—it might have been at one of the opening sessions of the Conference—about repatriation after the war. We all hope that the great majority of the refugees will then be repatriated, but we know that for a great many repatriation is not going to be possible, even when the country of origin is an Allied country and wants to take back its refugees, because of the 1134 economic disorder which 'is going to prevail in those countries which have suffered so long from Nazi oppression. Are the United Nations going to take responsibility, collectively or individually, for the burden, of resettlement, of course under specified conditions? I believe that to a large extent it will depend upon the answer to that question whether the decisions, of the Bermuda Conference are going to be as useful as they should in stimulating the generosity of neutral countries. Obviously, Palestine is the natural country of settlement for Jewish refugees. We are not thinking only of Jews, although Jews are the objects of greatest persecution. But we have a special responsibility for Jewish refugees, because of our responsibility for Palestine, the place to which they naturally turn.
Then again I do not think my right hon. Friend said anything about the financial question. That Evian Conference, that inter-Governmental Committee to which he referred, led, as we all know, to very little. We all know what a poor reputation it had for generosity, courage or speed. The Conference was not to blame; the nations who constituted it were to blame. They sought to throw the whole financial cost of refugee settlement upon the refugees themselves or upon philanthropy. The American document implied that that was so. The Jewish population has been extremely generous, not only to Jews but to other refugees. Sir John Hope Simpson, in his famous book, says something to the effect that more Christian refugees have been saved by the Jews than by the Christian churches. But at this stage this enormous problem is far too heavy for philanthropy or for the refugees them selves. The countries of Christendom have a great responsibility for the refugee problem, and only the forces of the United Nations will be able to shoulder the burden. Was any guarantee given that any substantial sum of money was to be made available?
In thinking of the neutral countries I sometimes wonder whether enough effort has been made to mobilise those of them which are not in danger, especially the wealthy and great Argentine Republic—the one country which has kept completely out of the war, and has perhaps a certain influence over the enemy countries because of its commercial facilities, and which has a tradition of Catholic christian- 1135 ity behind it. Has every effort been made to see what contribution they may be willing to make?
There is another thing about which I was disappointed to hear so little. We thought that we might have heard more about machinery, as so much depends upon machinery. First, on the question of machinery of action abroad, we only had a reference to the Inter-Governmental Committee. I do not gather quite whether the whole matter was to be referred to that Committee or not, but if it has been referred to that body, it will have to have very much better staff and finance and have more authority behind it than the Evian Conference ever had. And at the very best, the Inter-Governmental Committee will not deal quickly enough with the immediate problem. The very essential of that is the need for speed. It is just that reflection which has so maddened those of us who have been occupied day and night pondering over this problem; that the Government seem to have shown very little sense of urgency. I am not going to refer to all the months through which the preliminary arrangements for the Bermuda Conference have dragged on, that all the time that has been wasted in regard to those children who were to be got to Palestine, as we were promised, on 3rd February, of whom, as far as we know, not one has been moved. The opening speeches at Bermuda—those dreadful speeches—breathed the very spirit of defeatism and despair. If ever there was a case of "When the trumpet sounds an uncertain note who will repair to the battle?" this was it. And there was no sense of urgency at Bermuda.
We should like to know what is being done to hurry up this matter. That is the thought that possesses my mind night and day just now. We all know—do not imagine that we do not—the difficulties. We know that one of the greatest difficulties is transport and shipping. I have been asking myself why shipping has been so impossible to get. We have not apparently been able to get one group of people across the Mediterranean, or those children to Palestine for whom we were promised that they should go to Palestine. If shipping has been difficult in the past, it may be easier now for the very good reason that, temporarily,the Mediterranean is open.It is far less dangerous for shipping than it was be- 1136 fore the great victory of last week. But how much longer will that be? When an invasion in any part of Europe begins, what chance shall we get of shipping then? That is why we feel that speed is so enormously important. How do the Government achieve speed when they really care about a problem, and think it of first-class importance? They do not do it through conferences in Bermuda or through the lengthy method of the ordinary diplomatic channels, but they do it through inter-communication on the spot. Why is the Prime Minister at this moment in Washington? Why has he undertaken so many of these dangerous journeys? Is it not because he finds that a few hours heart-to-heart talk on the spot do more than months of communication?
Well, then, in regard to this smaller problem—a problem which, nevertheless, concerns the possibilities of saving, if not millions, possibly hundreds of thousands, and if not hundreds of thousands, ten of thousands, and if not tens of thousands, then thousands of human beings—would it not have been worth while long ago sending people to the spot who could make a whole-time job in the key places? We all know what the key places are; they are the neutral countries, and the countries under our own control. There has been correspondence with our diplomatic agents—and I admit that some of them have done a very good job of work where they are—but they have to depend on diplomatic communications at home, and they have other preoccupations. What we want, surely, are people on the spot who can make a whole-time job of negotiating, considering, planning and executing with the Governments of the countries which they are visiting, very much in the way that Nansen did after the last war. It is true that the war was then over. When reading a biography of Nansen recently I found that it was astonishing how close the analogies were. One sentence alone was, "Shipping was the great difficulty." Somehow Nansen managed to find the ships. [An HON. MEMBER: "But the war was over."] But shipping was the difficulty even though the war was over. What matters is that of caring enough and of giving your whole time and thought to doing the thing, and yet not in the spirit of sentimental enthusiasm which the Under-Secretary 1137 seemed to impute to us. Heaven knows that we have had enough experience to make us realists. In a spirit of realism, months ago, we put across the suggestion of "a new Nansen"—for someone who could travel by air from one country to another and consider the problem on the spot. It has not been done, and we have not been told of any likelihood of its being done.
Again, as to machinery of home action. Some of us, I am afraid, make ourselves a nuisance sometimes to our hon. and right hon. Friends by the way we pester them in the Lobby, by Parliamentary questions, by letters and by our suggestions. Believe me, we are not really so unmindful of their difficulties as they may sometimes think us. I sometimes ask myself how much attention I would be able to give to this question if I were Foreign Secretary and also Leader of the House, or the Home Secretary, or the Colonial Secretary. Perhaps not much more than they have given, given their preoccupations. But there is the rub. That is the question which is troubling us. Need those problems, on which depend the chance of saving tens of thousands of people and which are so terribly difficult, continue to be left entirely to men who can only give them a few fag ends and tag ends and scraps and leavings of their already overburdened minds? It may be necessary for the Cabinet to take the burden of the final decisions, and they have their underlings behind them now to help them. But that is not the same thing as having even one man of really first-class standing with authority behind him, who could co-ordinate this whole difficult class of planning and find a way out of difficulties. that concern at least half a dozen different ministries in this country alone, to say nothing about communications with some 30 Allies.
I should like to see a Ministry for Refugees. It is a big enough problem. We have had a lot of new Ministries lately. Do any of them in any Ministry tackle anything more difficult than this frightful problem of refugees not only in its present but in its post-war aspects? The post-war settlement of refugees is going to be a very big problem. If the Government cannot give us a Minister, let them give us at least one man of really first-class standing who can make a whole-time job of this question. I am going to make a boast. We outsiders do not pre- 1138 tend to know all the factors upon which decisions must depend. Yet we never leave the presence of Ministers when we have managed to secure a few hurried moments of discussion with them without thinking not only that we care more, which is natural, but that in a sense we know more about it. We know the possibilities and sometimes feel that we know even the difficulties better than [hey do, because we have lost no opportunity of making contact with everybody—with visiting foreigners, with responsible diplomats, with returned refugees, with anyone and everyone who we think can throw any sort of light upon all these difficulties. Nowhere can we see traces of that kind of consideration by Ministers which, we feel sure, the Government would have given to this problem if they had cared as much as we do and it they were not merely trying—I put it bluntly—to buy off public agitation as cheaply as possible.
I must say this. Our experience is most depressing when we approach the Home Secretary from whom we feel that we might perhaps expect something, because he has a field of administration directly under his control. I must say a word or two on one of the criticisms of my pamphlet in my right hon. Friend's speech, but I do not want to waste time with details. As to the particular case he cited. How could I have known that that particular man—that naturalised Turk—might perhaps have been a suspicious person? If it were so, no great harm could happen. Turkey is an Ally, though a non-belligerent. Would they want to pass on a spy to us; and was there any danger from that elderly couple in Berlin, whose poor daughter believes them to be dead? If we found out they were suspicious people, we might have helped them,to get into Turkey and to be passed on here and then put them, where we put all other suspicious people, in an Isle of Man internment camp, and the daughter would have rejoiced to see them anywhere out of Germany. What about all those other people to whom the Home Secretary boasted that we had been so generous? The Home Secretary really does seem sometimes to be trying to have it both ways. He is always telling us, when we approach him, how very generous this country has been already to refugees, and I deal with that claim in the pamphlet to which the right hon. Gen- 1139 tleman referred. I felt terribly alarmed when he referred to it. I wondered how many inaccuracies and wrong facts he might have found out in spite of the care taken. He did not point out a single inaccuracy.
Then if there are inaccuracies, I hope he will point them out. To come back to the broad aspects of the question, why need the Home Secretary always have told us, when we approached him, that he must await consultation with other nations before he could do anything or even make the concessions which have been announced to-day, such as the acceptance of parents of men in the Allied Forces and several other small concessions like that? These may amount together to 10, 200 or 300 cases, but perhaps not so many, I am not sure. Anyhow, the Home Secretary really cannot at one and the same time claim how generous we have been and yet lay down regulations which show that nearly all the people brought in hitherto were admitted because we wanted them for our own purposes.
§ Earl Winterton
(Horsham and Worthing): As the hon. Lady has already attacked a body engaged in this work, I must correct one inaccuracy. Her last statement is totally devoid of any foundation. The people who were brought in before the war by the Committee of which I am Chairman had nothing whatever to do with the war effort, and but for the action of that Committee 10,000 people at present in this country might never have been brought here.
I am at this moment criticising the Home Secretary. He was not in office before the war, and I am not talking now of what was done before the war. As to the numbers brought in before the war, I commend to my right hon. Friend the few comments I made in my pamphlet on the claim of the great generosity of this country in the shape of quotations from Sir John Hope Simpson's book. I was saying that the people brought in lately had been brought in 1140 because we or our Allies needed them badly for the war effort. They cannot therefore be claimed as proofs of our generosity. Then he told us that he could not send visas direct into enemy territory and that it might endanger refugees if he communicated with them. Does he believe that I need telling that? For months past every letter I have written to refugees has reminded them of these two facts. Does the Under-Secretary really mean to deny that refugees do not sometimes have secret ways of communication with their relatives in enemy territory? I do not know how they do it, but they do do it through one channel or another, through neutral channels perhaps. But whether that is so or not in any particular case, does he tell me that it does not make a difference when a refugee arrives at the border if the authorities of that country have been informed beforehand that a visa is awaiting the refugee? It is common sense that it makes a difference. In the correspondence which I sent the Home Secretary last week I cited the case of a neutral country which said it would give a visa if Great Britain would give one, and I know of many instances like that. The right hon. Gentleman also mocked at the suggestion that block visas would make any difference. Of course, they would make a difference. The Bermuda Conference has admitted that action in neutral countries depends on the possibility of passing people on. Will they not be more in a position to pass people on if Great Britain has in the hands of the Consuls some hundreds of unnamed visas available for Palestine or Great Britain or some[...] camp under their control in North Africa or elsewhere, if the United States has another block of such visas and any other friendly country also has a block of such visas?
I do not want to detain the Committee much longer but I must say that in one respect this country excels. There is no other country where public opinion so much favours a strong and generous policy. Yet when we approach the Home Secretary we are made to feel that pressure from public opinion has not merely helped but has hardened his attitude. It seems that he wants to show that he is a strong man by refusing to make even the smallest concession and that his attitude has been influenced sometimes less by the merits of the case than by his dislike of yielding any- 1141 thing to his critics. He has made some concession to-day, and I will say no more about that, but why does he always make us feel in his Parliamentary answers, and even in our approaches to him privately, as if the whole question of refugees was becoming a bore and an irritation to him and that he was transferring to refugees the dislike which he quite openly feels for ourselves? We feel a terrible responsibility in this matter; it is a responsibility which rests upon all countries but it rests more peculiarly on this country, partly because it is so largely a Jewish problem. In the days when the Home Secretary was merely the Member for South Hackney he felt that responsibility more keenly. Let me read a quotation from a speech he made on 24th November, 1938, during a Debate on Palestine:… We must not let our horror of the German persecution warp our reasonable judgment,… we were making a contribution in Palestine by permitting the immigration of 10,000 Jews a month or 12,000 a year. But that is no contribution whatever in the circumstances which have arisen out of the German persecution in recent weeks. There is no change in the number of Jews that are permitted to go to Palestine. Therefore, the net Palestinian contribution to meet the difficulties which have arisen out of recent persecutions is precisely nil. The Government are not permitting one additional Jew to enter Palestine as a consequence of the terrible events which are happening in Europe.Every word of that might have been written about the situation to-day except that the persecutions in Europe are incomparably more terrible. Then thepresent Home Secretary followed that by saying:Is it not an onus upon us now to lift the restrictions upon: Jewish immigration so far as they now exist and permit a much greater number of Jews to go to Palestine?…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th Nov., 1938; cols. 1998 and 2005, Vol. 341.]I heartily agree. I know that the Colonial Secretary and not the Home Secretary has the responsibility under the Government for Palestinian policy. But it is a Cabinet responsibility, and if for reasons whether good or bad—and I think some of them are bad—we have shut the door to Palestine except for the few who are now able to get there, does not that enormously increase our responsibility. I admit, again, that it is a shared responsibility, and although it is not for us British people to criticise the United States, I cannot admit the claim that America has been very generous towards refugees. Some of their procedure about 1142 granting visas and so on has been even more difficult and slow than our own. But no country really has clean hands in this matter. If we had all shown greater wisdom, foresight, generosity and, above all, courage before the war, there would have been no isolationism on the other side of the Atlantic and there would have been no appeasement here. Hitler would not have dared to try to exterminate European Jewry, and the war itself might even have been averted.
I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us how much more sensitive than ourselves were our Elizabethan ancestors. Think of Lady Macbeth and "Hamlet" and their agonies of remorse over the death of one old king Think of the hundreds of thousands of millions of lives which have been sacrificed in Europe. If our rulers and those of other nations had shown greater courage, unselfishness and generosity in the pre-war days, they would not have died. If the blood of those who have perished unnecessarily during this war were to flow down Whitehall, the flood would rise so high that it would drown everyone within those gloomy buildings which house our rulers. What is past is past. But the future is still within our control. How many more who might be saved will perish in these 20th century massacres if the problem is not approached not in the spirit of the Bermuda Conference, but in the spirit of determination to do everything possible?
Have I sounded too bitter? I tell you, Major Milner, there is not one who would not feel bitter if he or she had my postbag and read the letters I receive by every post from agonised people who feel that the one chance left for their relatives is slipping from them and that they may soon have to take that awful journey to the Polish slaughter-house and who beg me to rescue them, not realising how impotent I am. I shall be told that in these dreadful days, anxiety is the common lot. There is not one of us who does not suffer it, more or less. Many have already suffered cruel bereavement. But there is a difference. The sacrifices which British people and our Allies are asked to make and for the most part are making so bravely are worth while sacrifices for a great and noble end, They are the only means of ridding the world of a monstrous tyranny and of opening up a brighter future for mankind. We must not and dare not-grudge them. But then deaths, 1143 of which we are thinking to-day, are so utterly useless, squalid and unspeakably cruel. They serve no purpose, except to gratify one man's lust for cruelty, for wrecking vengeance on the weak when he cannot reach the strong. Only victory will put an end to it all. But meantime let no one say: "We are not responsible." We are responsible if a single man, woman or child perishes whom we could and should have saved. Too many lives, too much time has been lost already. Do not lose any more.
§ Mr. Ridley
(Clay Cross): I should not have contemplated saying anything in this Debate, but I thought it a little cowardly that a back bencher like myself, who has taken no part in this matter, should not say with what great regret and disappointment we listened to the Under-Secretary's speech to-day. Indeed, I think a statement in Secret Session would have given the country more satisfaction and could hardly have given it less. I am not usually cast in the role of critic, but I have come to that mood to-day, after great consideration, to say that the Under-Secretary's statement has justified the fear that the Bermuda Conference was made an occasion for discovering difficulties and not for providing solutions to them. I heard with some astonishment the right hon. Gentleman say that the two Governments concerned were seriously considering the problems which had been discovered by the Conference. I always assumed that the two Governments, especially our own, had been considering these problems for a long time. Here I would like to say that I cannot associate myself with the very severe personal attacks made by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think some of her remarks were unjustified in the light of my right hon. Friend's personal career and well-known spirit.
The House in this matter has run through a gamut of emotions. First of all, there was the emotion of revulsion and horror when we realised—as many in this country still do not realise—the real character of the Hitler method of trying to suppress the human race. Secondly, there was the feeling almost of exultation at the speech made by the Foreign Secretary in December—a speech which seemed to give 1144 assurance of positive action in the face of the problem as we then understood it. Then followed most profound disappointment at what appeared to be—and still in some senses appears to be—the inactivity of the Government, especially as it is related to the specific assurance of help contained in the Foreign Secretary's answer to a recent Supplementary Question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman).
I am in no mood to make irresponsible. charges against the Government in view of what this country has already done. The Home Secretary failed to distinguish between the general problem as it was before the pogrom commenced and the special problem as it now exists, but the size of our contribution to the general refugee problem is warmly recognised by the leaders of world Jewry, and we may well be, as the Under-Secretary rather assumed, proud of our figures in that connection. But, whatever our history may have been, we must not cover ourselves with too much altruism: We are inclined to consider the refugees as though they had been and will continue to be a burden on this country. That assumption is entirely contrary to the facts. Many of them are engaged on work of national importance, sometimes very vital national importance. In any case we are in the presence of an altogether new and terrible situation, terrible because it has revealed the unbelievable capacity of modern man for sadistic cruelty, terrible because of the consequences of that cruelty to the victims, most of whom are charged with only one crime—the crime of being Jews. It is enough to contemplate for a moment the process of mass electrocution to realise what a chapter of horror is being written in our history. My plea to the Government is to recognise that those horrors impose upon us an inescapable responsibility, and we should endeavour to write a compensating chapter of magnificent deliverance in the same history. This responsibility falls hardly less on other countries, but their inactivity would not excuse us.
I plead that those who can come here should be allowed to come here, where we can save them from the torture chamber or from the horrible contemplation of the fate that awaits them. I plead also that we should fling wide open the doors of Palestine. The absorptive capacity of 1145 modern Palestine is undoubtedly high. The Jews there have turned the desert into a fertile country, and the absorptive capacity of that fertile country has been lifted in consequence. I am assured that there is a man-power shortage and that Palestine would gladly take about 30,000 families or 70,000 people. The Palestinian has his father, mother, sisters and brothers, in the hell's cauldron that we call Europe; he waits feverishly to receive them. Whatever we can do to unite them we should regard it as our fundamental duty to do. The White Paper quotas, which seemed to mean so much five years ago, now mean little, and we ought not to be limited in a period of grave crisis by figures which were fashioned in other circumstances. There must not be another Struma disaster. I should hope that, these things having been accomplished, or at least attempted, we could turn with renewed assurance to the task of trying to induce other free countries to make their maximum contribution. This is not an occasion for unrestrained criticism. Our record of general refugee asylum is not one of which we need be ashamed, and it would be foolish to ignore some of the difficulties which must be met if our contribution is to be enlarged, but I plead most earnestly for such further action as will enable us to say with pride that we have left nothing undone which it was within our power to accomplish, or even to attempt.
§ Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
(Kingston-upon-Hull, North:West): I cannot help feeling that the Committee will be conscious of a very definite sense of disappointment that the Under-Secretary has not been able to say something more definite with regard to the decisions and discussions that have taken place at Bermuda. It might have been very difficult for him to do so, but he certainly gave us very little information with regard to what has taken place there, and, from what he has told us, it does not seem as if anything very definite has emerged from those decisions. Of course, very little has been done since the beginning of the war in the way of helping these unfortunate people who are now suffering from Nazi tyranny, but I realise the difficulty that has stood in the way, and it has not been made any easier from the point of view of the Home Office by the propaganda that has been going on ever since this question arose. The Home Office has 1146 to a large extent ignored that propaganda and has allowed rather incorrect statements to get abroad and to get a long start and has taken very few steps to overtake and correct them. We have had an example in this Debate of incorrect statements which the Home Office has allowed to spread abroad. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) said that, had it not been for the action of the Government, millions and millions of Jews would have gone to Palestine.
I do not think I can have said millions and millions could have gone. That would be an exaggeration. The point was that, if the door had been opened to Palestine before the war, far larger numbers could have got in, and that increases our responsibility for doing something now.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
The hon. Lady actually used the word "millions," which I was going to point out was absurd in the case of an agricultural country, if anything rather smaller than Wales. Statements of that kind have made additional difficulties for the Home Office and for the Government. Of course, there has been a situation which we can only describe as an impasse. Neutral countries would not accept refugees until they were assured of a visa which would enable them to come to Great Britain, and Great Britain would not grant that visa until the refugee was actually in a neutral country, and nothing further could be done. From what we have heard to-day it does not seem as if anything has been done that will make matters easier in that direction. One of the great difficulties in admitting large numbers of refugees to this country is the fact that a very considerable proportion of the population does not want them. It has been said—I should not like to say whether it is true or not—that to admit a large number of refugees of the Jewish religion might easily fan the smouldering fires of anti-Semitism which exist here into a flame. Many people regard that as absurd, but from my own experience I am not at all sure there is not something in it. From almost exactly this date three years ago until the beginning of the year I was working with the Home Guard in the East End. The zone for which I was responsible comprised the Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar and some of the outlying districts 1147 of ther boroughs.There was undoubtedly in existence a very definite anti-Semitic feeling. When it came to the selection of officers, or non-commissioned officers, one was always up against that problem. One heard it said directly anything went wrong that the Jews were to blame—quite untruthfully. If there was any question of a black market, it was said, untruthfully, that the Jews were largely doing it. When that terrible disaster took place at a shelter three or four months ago the rumour was put about that it was panic on the part of the foreign Jews. It is quite untrue, as was shown by the fact that only something like 5 per cent. of the casualties were members of the Jewish religion.
Another reason why it is difficult to admit refugees in any large numbers is that it is almost certain that a great many of them would automatically gravitate towards the East End. Apart from anything else, the housing accommodation there is a very serious difficulty. During the blitz of 1940-1 something like 30 per cent. of the housing accommodation was either completely destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. It did not matter so much then, because the great desire of the people was to get away. To-day they are trying to come back, and to allow refugees to crowd in would simply turn the accommodation difficulty into an accommodation impossibility, and, should we decide to bring any large number of, these unfortunates into the country, I cannot help feeling that that area should be debarred to them. I admit that it is rather like the system of concentration camps, but really it is not worse than not allowing our own citizens into areas where by reason of military necessity it is considered better that they should not be. Although it may be preferable that those refugees should not come here, I cannot help feeling that it is absolutely essential that we should do something to endeavour to help in this terrible problem. The hon. Lady suggested a largely increased quota for Palestine. The difficulty there is that one has always been up against the antagonism of the Moslems, and a largely increased immigration would probably increase the friction.
One cannot get away from the fact that the long-range part of the refugee problem is largely a Jewish one. We have in this country a large number of refugees 1148 from Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries, and there are people only too anxious to get away from the occupied parts of Russia. We hope, when the war is over, those refugees will want to get back to their own countries. With regard to the Jews, that is not so certain, because I cannot help feeling that it is very doubtful whether the German Jews would ever wish again to live among the people who have treated them so abominably in the past. It is fantastic to say that their treatment has been entirely due to the Gestapo. They may have been the active agents of that treatment, but these Jews know perfectly well that that treatment has been upheld by a large number of their neighbours. I cannot conceive that in the future they will wish ever again to live among those people.
We must try to do something, and I have a suggestion to put forward that has not, so far as I am aware, been discussed. Our glorious victory in Tunisia has thrown open to us 4,000 miles of coastline, the entire coastline of North Africa, the Southern shores of the Mediterranean. A large part of that is open and ready for immigration. It is true that 1,800 miles of that 4,000 miles is in the hands of the Free French, and we do not know yet what attitude they are likely to adopt with regard tic assisting in the refugee problem. The Jewish population of North Africa is to-day quite considerable. It varies from something like 2 to 2½ per cent. in the rural districts to something like 12 to 15 per cent. in the urban districts. A great part of that country is suitable for colonisation. It is true that if we start from the Nile Delta, for the first 500 or 600 miles the desert practically abuts on the ocean, and there is little cultivable land available. When we get somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tobruk the country improves, and at Derna, where we get to Cyrenaica, the country is high, the vegetation is reasonably luxurious and there is ample though not excessive rainfall. As we go on there is further desert, and then we come to the Tripoli neighbourhood, where there is again opportunity for colonisation. The town of Tripoli has its full quota of to per cent. Jews, so that any Jews who were admitted there would not be breaking fresh ground, for they would have their co-religionists there already to help them. The same conditions apply right through Tunisia, where there is again a consider- 1149 able percentage of Jews, in Algiers and right across Morocco including Tangier and Casablanca. In all these places a migrating colony of Jews would find their co-religionists, who in many cases would stand by them and help them.
It is in Cyrenaica that the greatest opportunity exists for the settlement of these unfortunate people. As many people are aware, Mussolini, in the days before the war, conceived the idea of settling at least 100,000 Italians in Cyrenaica. At the beginning of the war 20 or 30 village settlements had been built and cultivated. Those settlements had houses, social amenities, wells and practically everything that was necessary for an agricultural community to start with. Many of those Italians will no longer wish to live there. Many of the least desirable ones, those with the strongest Fascist sentiments, can be sent home. I cannot conceive for a moment that Cyrenaica will ever be returned to Italy. I cannot imagine even a peace conference being responsible for such a policy. We can, therefore, look forward to Cyrenaica becoming a settlement such as Palestine has proved to be. A great deal of the spade work has already been done. It is true that probably the houses have been looted and damaged by the soldiery and the native population, but I should think that it is certain that the structure is still there, and in the days immediately after the war it should be possible to settle a large number of these refugees on that land. Of course, I am assuming that it will be possible to get these people away from the German-occupied territories, to get them into neutral countries and to bring them across. I cannot help feeling that it will not be impossible to do it to a small extent during the war, but after the war it should not be difficult. The shipping requirements will not be great, for the distance they will have to travel by sea is comparatively small. It seems to me that here lies, if not a solution, at any rate, an amelioration, of the conditions that exist in so many pa rtc of Europe, and I cannot help feeling that if something like that can be done, it will go far to solve one of the most urgent problems of the present moment.
§ Mr. Mack
(Newcastle-under-Lyme): The Committee will agree, I think, that nothing less than a generous tribute of 1150 appreciation and profound respect should be paid to the hon. Lady who opened this discussion for the fine sentiments, the truly Christian sentiments, which were embodied in her remarks. I have perhaps an advantage, albeit a psychological one, of having succeeded a gentleman, Lord Wedgwood, whose great work for the persecuted peoples and the minorities of all lauds was indeed a striking one and one which will endure for many centuries to come. Moreover, I have the privilege—and I use the word advisedly—of being a direct representative of the harassed people to whom many allusions have been made and to whom many expressions of sincere sympathy have been extended. Furthermore it has been my lot to speak on behalf of the Zionist Federation of this country, and in that capacity to address large numbers of people not only of the Jewish persuasion, but non-Jews who have supported the policy of that organisation and who are anxious to find a practical and concrete solution to this terrible calamity which has visited mankind and sent a shock of horror through the pulses of all. About ninety years ago an outstanding statesman, John Bright, said in this House:The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings.There is another monster who is stalking the land to-day and of him it may be said one can almost feel the heat of his breath angrily spurting from his nostrils.
The most unfortunate elements of the world are surely the refugees of Europe, and particularly the Jewish people because their conditions are different from all others. I would not be so narrow in my conception as not to say, as every enlightened person would want to say, that all refugees of whatever religion and state who arc enduring the horrors of the Hitler regime are entitled to have the fullest consideration. The Jews, however, are unlike others in that they have no Government to speak for them, they have no consul and no flag. They have no status in any land and they are not likely to have a place at any future peace conference. Our hearts go out to them because of their hopeless plight. We have had the Bermuda Conference. It has been shrouded in mystery and no publicity has been allowed to percolate from it. I hope I do not misquote the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty when I say 1151 that he stated that the position of the White Paper on Palestine of May, 1939, would not be considered by the Bermuda Conference. That White Paper was a calamitous document, which caused consternation and sorrow in the hearts of the Jewish people. It restricted immigration into Palestine to 75,000 certificates for five years. On 3rd February the Secretary of State for the Colonies made a statement to the effect that 29,000 of these certificates would be available. Mr. Philip Murray, President of the Congress of Industrial Organisations of America, speaking on behalf of a vast number of organised American workers, said that they were not allowed to attend that Conference in any capacity, and then spoke of the indignation of American workers in particular and of workers all over the world at the fact that they should be excluded. My hon. Friend must not complain if since we are kept in the dark as to the findings of that Conference and, indeed, of its discussions, we have to forage about in an endeavour to ascertain what is behind the minds of the gentlemen who conceived this Conference which has proved so abortive, and in spite of the protestations of the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, has given us so little to hope for.
I would say that as a positive solution, the Government of this country should announce to the world a statement that refugees who can escape by whatever means should be granted temporary asylum in Britain, subject of course to adequate safeguards for security reasons. They could be utilised in the war effort; indeed they are anxious to participate in it. They could be used in a military capacity where their age and sex permitted. They could be used in an agricultural and scientific capacity. Indeed, I believe that the brains and intelligence of a large number of these refugees would enrich the war effort of this country. Palestine alone of any country in the world has absorbed, can absorb, and is anxious to absorb, as many refugees as it is physically possible to rescue from Europe. It can take in 27,000 heads of families with 70,000 wives and dependants, making a total of 97,000 refugees within the next six months. If it were necessary, those efforts could be trebled and quadrupled. As a matter of fact, in 1933 to 1939 Palestine absorbed 200,000 refugees, of whom 170,000 came 1152 from Nazi lands or lands which were under Nazi control. An important factor has intervened. That is our great and glorious victory in North Africa, which has reverberated throughout the world. No one can pay sufficient homage and honour to our wonderful troops who have brought about that victory. I believe that if the troops could become vocal on this issue, they would say, "We would be proud if the Government of this country would make it possible for the very people we are fighting for, those hopeless victims of Hitler's régime, to escape their enemies." The result of that victory has reduced considerably the strain upon our shipping, although I am not unmindful of the grave difficulties which confront shipping at the present time. There is the consequent enormously increased prestige for this country in Africa and throughout the world, particularly in Arab lands, and although allusion has been made to the Arab reaction which might take place, I believe it is not as formidable an obstacle as has been suggested. It has been grossly exaggerated, and behind that exaggeration there is a certain amount of Nazi controlled propaganda. We must relax that White Paper. We must say that if Jews can get into Palestine in excess of the numbers in that White Paper every facility will be afforded them to do so, because, searching the four corners of the earth, I bid fair to say, that this country and the United Nations will find no more noble and gallant allies than the brave Jewish people who are making their splendid contribution to the cause of which we are so proud.
May I say in all humility and with deference that I am not regardless of the fact that, like all other peoples, they have their faults and shortcomings. One cannot persecute a people for thousands of years and expect them to be the embodiment of all the virtues, and, as Shakespeare said:Be thou pure as ice and chaste as snow, Thou shalt not escape calumny.Were the Jews to be as perfect as human beings could possibly be, I still believe that a tinge of anti-Semitism would be directed towards them. I ought to say in parenthesis that there are some Jews in this country who take the view that if they emphasise their English ancestry, the fact that they have had their roots in this country for many generations, in the event of some subsequent wave of anti-Semi- 1153 tism in this country they will be immune. I would give a clear refutation of that fallacy. In Germany and elsewhere, Jews who wanted to be more German than the Germans, and who, in this country, have tried to prove that they are more English than the English have been given the treatment which in my opinion they richly deserve, because while the Jews are rightly and properly loyal to the country in which they live, as I know they always will be, at the same time their eyes are directed and have been directed for many centuries to Palestine, to that land from which their culture spread. They are the people of the Book. They are the creators of the Bible. They have given to the world the great Nazarene whose most noble contribution was a tender sympathy for the poor and innocent, and if I may say so with great respect, for I know the Committee are kindly in their dispositions, were those precepts of Christianity to be practised to-day, there would be no Jewish problem, no problem of persecution. There would be no problem of a tiny fragment of people being immolated on the fires of hate and exorcised from the midst of mankind.
It has been said that attacking the Jews is driving a wedge, militarily, diplomatically and ideologically, into the ranks of Hitler's opponents prior to piecemeal subjugation and annihilation. If there be any truth in that, I trust that one outcome of this Debate will be to bring about a kindlier and warmer feeling between the Jewish people and the great non-Jewish community and to expand that kindliness and understanding. May I also pay a tribute to those very noble Christian men and women who, in spite of taunts and derision, have upheld the principles of democracy as we conceive it in this country? It is not too much to say that the greatness of England, the triumph of this little island in this most vital period of its history is to a large extent due not only to the expanding power of its arms, but to the power of its spiritual influence, that noble and tender consideration for the weak and the refugees of all countries of the world. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward), who immediately preceded me, referred to over-congestion which might occur if numbers of Jews were to come into this country. I realise that there are practical difficulties. I recognise that the intermixture of a people 1154 of different roots and habits must inevitably create difficulties, but I believe that if the Government were bold enough and courageous enough to give a lead to the country, and say that racial hatred and antagonism is anti-British and against the well-being of the country, and if we were to devise legislation which should root out anti-Semitism, I am positive that a great number of people in this country would recognise the value of such an act on the part of the Government, and to a large extent that antagonism would no longer exist. In Russia anti-Semitism has been reduced to negliglible proportions.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
We really must give up referring to the position in Russia. This is a very wide Debate, but I do not think we ought to refer to the position in other countries.
§ Mr. Mack
I bow in deference to your Ruling, Mr. Williams. I had ventured to interpolate one sentence as an illustration of how this great problem has been effectively dealt with by Russia. However, I will not pursue that point. I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend to whom I have been alluding, that I do not think the problem would be so difficult as he imagines. I think it was Macaulay who in a wonderful essay, speaking as an Englishman, a great parliamentarian, and a great historian, said: "An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia." I would paraphrase that for the Jews and say: "A Dunam of land in Palestine is better than a province in Cyrenaica." Whilst we appreciate the kindly interest taken in the Jewish people with a view to solving their present territorial and economic problems I want to say, that from the religious, the historical, and economic point of view, the Jews regard Palestine, and Palestine alone, as the land in which they are prepared to make sacrifices and to which they are prepared to send their suffering brethren.
It would take too long, and I do not want to weary the Committee by telling them of the magnificent and munificent contributions Jewry all over the world has made to the war effort and the large sums of money which those in this country have contributed, totally out of proportion to their relatively small numbers, a mere third of a million. But I 1155 would quote a statement which Captain J. Helpern, of the Anglo-American Community for the Jewish Army, made in a speech in Manchester recently. He said that up to the present in this war, the Jews had paid with 2,000,000 lives for the distorted picture of themselves which arose from the policy of ascribing their achievements to other nations and giving them credit only for the "vices" of their black sheep. More than a million Jews were serving in the armies of the United Nations, a large proportion of the Free French defenders of Bir Akim were Jews of the Foreign Legion, and over 16,000 of General Mihailovich's Forces were Jews. But the story of their sacrifices would take far too long to tell. May I say, and this is vitally true, that it is very difficult for a race to show all their finer qualities when they are largely treated as pariahs.
The Jews are a courageous people. That can be said With great truth of the Jews who fought with Judas Maccabeus and the Jews in the Ghettoes of Warsaw who, completely unarmed, fought with wonderful heroism against their Nazi murderers. May I give one further example? The whole of the Jewish population of Palestine, a bare half million, rose in righteous wrath and indignation at the advance of Rommel. They said to the Government, "Give us an army, give us a flag, give us an identity, give us arms, and we, men, women and children, will fight against the invader. Indeed, if you do not give us arms, rather than let the tanks of Rommel ravage our fair country, we will tear down those tanks with our bare naked fingers." That was a magnificent gesture, and one which would have been translated into reality had the opportunity arisen.
I am trying to avoid the emotion which every one of us must feel in greater or lesser degree at the sheer, stark spectacle of a whole race being liquidated. The details of the murders are too horrible for the mind to contemplate. When we think that in the 20th century, in a so-called era of civilisation, such things can be perpetrated upon a people, no matter who that people may be, I say that if this world were not to be altered as a result of the war I would throw up my hands in utter despair, disavowing my faith in the 1156 whole future of mankind; but I believe that mankind can, and indeed will, regenerate itself. I believe that if this country is bold and courageous, if this country is prepared above all other countries—and its record is as great as that of any other country—to say to the Jews of the world, "Come ye into this country as a temporary refuge, and those Jews who temporarily take refuge in this country will be able after the war to go to Palestine," the very German Jews themselves would be glad of the opportunity of going to Palestine. If the Government will recognise that to be its true policy, it will be not merely carrying out a great eleemosynary principle, but will perform a deed which will preserve the name of this country for time immemorial as the greatest and most. wonderful benefactor of all mankind.
(Chippenham): I greatly appreciate the eloquent appeal that we have just heard, and I should like to join with the hon. Member in offering a sincere tribute to the hon. and noble Lady—I use those adjectives not in the Parliamentary sense, but in the ordinary sense—the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). I have been associated with her for over 10 years in this problem of refugees, and it is impossible to exaggerate the complete disinterestedness, the great personal generosity and the unquenchable importunity which she has shown in matters dealing with it. If those characteristics and qualities have not always made her popular with Government Departments, I can assure her that they have earned her the deep admiration and affection of a great many friends, and thousands of friends, many of whom owe their lives to her work.
The Under-Secretary of State made a speech which, quite clearly, pleased the Committee. From a Departmental point of view it was admirable for what it said, and for what it left unsaid. I have only one comment to make about it. Speaking of the Committee of which I have the honour of being Chairman, he seemed to convey the impression that we were rather naughty boys and girls because we were taking so much interest in this subject. We ought to be leaving it to that efficient and benign Government Department to which he belongs. I would remind him that he will find a good number of the 1157 members of his own party on that Committee. He almost implied that it was Wrong for us to take such an active interest in this question. What would be wrong and deplorable, at this moment in the history of Europe, in view of the appalling problems presented by the treatment of the refugees, would he if there were no committees of this kind and if there were nut men and women of every party and every religious creed throughout the country devoting their time and their lives to finding a solution to the problem. We would indeed be acting contrary to the very best traditions of our country.
To-day's Debate has been called a Debate upon refugees generally. If by "refugees" we mean those who desire to escape from Nazi rule, it indeed covers a very wide area. All Europe to-day is a prison house. The best part of 100,000,000 people are longing to be delivered from Nazi rule and persecution. It is true to say in that sense that overwhelming victory alone will solve that problem. I want to concentrate my few remarks upon a smaller section, namely, the Jews of Europe, those people whom wa have been told by Goebbels only recently it is the German policy to exterminate. Just before I came into the Committee I was given a document in which there was information that came from Poland only a few days ago. All I can say is that that threat of Goebbels is no idle boast. The Jews are being exterminated to-day in tens of thousands. The stories of the horrors of the massacres at a camp called Treblinka would put to shame the massacres of Genghis Khan or the sufferings of the Albigenses in the past.
We have often heard of the tragedies of the Jews in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. The other day there came to my notice certain facts in regard to the Jews in Belgium. They are a comparatively small number, but their sufferings are illustrative of what is going on elsewhere. In pre-war days there was no Jewish question in Belgium. The Germans have created one. Just over a year ago orders were given for the extermination of the Jews in Belgium. They were forbidden to leave the country. They had to wear a distinctive badge. I wonder how many of us realise the humiliation imposed on the Jews in Europe by having to wear the yellow armlet? Happily that 1158 humiliation is mitigated by the kindness of the people of the country towards those who have to wear it. All Jews in the country were put under the curfew. They were excluded from the medical profession. They were only allowed to live in certain areas. One night 2,000 of them were rounded up in Brussels and sent off to some concentration camp in Germany. The result is that to-day, out of some 50,000 odd Jews in Belgium, 25,000, that is to say, all the young men and young women, have been deported to concentration camps in Poland or in Germany. This gives only one example from one little country. Multiply it a hundredfold. We then have an idea of the extent of the tragedy in Europe to-day.
I have never been one of those who attributed to the Government on this question an extra dose of original sin, and I appreciate that they feel on this question of refugees very much the same as we all do. I get a little tired, however, of being told time and time again how wonderful this country has been. We may have a good record—quite true—but what does that mean? We have simply done an act of ordinary Christian duty, of which we ought to be proud of having had the opportunity. It does not give us a reason for putting an extra halo of sanctity on our heads. Before the war we allowed something between 60,000 and 70,000 German and Austrian Jews into this country. In the first place, they were allowed in by no means because of any action on the part of the Government, but largely because of the generosity of individuals who were prepared to take them into their homes or to put up personal guarantees for them. Practically every one of those people are now doing useful and in many cases vital war work, and we certainly have not lost as a country by admitting those people into our midst. In any case, some 50,000 or 60,000 lives have been saved. We had an opportunity just before the war of bringing to this country some Coo Jewish doctors, and had we done so we might have deprived the German military machine of much of its effectiveness. I am not suggesting that all those doctors should have been allowed to practice. We did our best to persuade the Government to allow them in, but we failed.
I recognise that every member of the Government feels as deeply in his heart of hearts and as sincerely about this prob- 1159 lem as do any of us, but I sometimes ask myself whether any of us, living in comparative safety and enjoying the large measure of toleration which exists in this country, quite realise what is going on in Europe, unless we have just heard of some new and appalling instance of massacre, or seen a play like "Watch on the Rhine," or a film or read a book describing what has happened in Europe. I am confident that if any of us were brought face to face this very minute with one of those incidents, which are not isolated but are going on almost every hour of the day and night in every part of Europe, we would be much more active about it. If we could hear the Gestapo knocking at the doors in the middle of the night, taking members of the family off never to be heard of again or seen, old men and women being beaten or kicked, children taken from their parents or men and women being hung up at the end of the street in which we live, I am certain, no matter what our views might be and whether we were anti-Jewish or not, the reaction would be identical in every one of us. We would say, "Of course, we will do what we can." Everyone would say to the Government, "Go on and do what you can to open the doors. Take a risk, do something, something must be done."
The Under-Secretary of State made play with a case that was put forward, an individual case by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities. She may have made a mistake in the details. We have all taken up cases of refugees of which we have not been able to know all the facts, but were we wrong to take them up, even though the Home Office eventually found out all about the case? If it were a question of our own mothers or near relatives who were in Germany or Austria who wanted to get out, or of anyone in the satellite countries like Hungary or Rumania, or in a neutral country, who might be in danger of being sent back to Germany, would we not go on raising the case time and time again? We would not be influenced by any frown from the Treasury Bench. One of the troubles is that despite an immense amount of good will on the part of the Government and everybody else, little can be done. There are the difficulties of transport and food and of the overriding requirements of the war. 1160 All those must, of course, come first, and we realise it. I do not suppose that the Government are in any doubt about the wide support throughout the country which is behind their efforts. One of the most pleasing and refreshing things we have experienced who are interested in these problems is the overwhelming response in the last few months and the offers of hospitality that have come from all sections of the community, and from none more than what might be considered the poor in this country.
Among the arguments against admitting into this country any considerable number of refugees is that people are afraid, so they say, of anti-Semitism. I know there is anti-Semitism in this country, but I am ashamed of it. The fact that anti-Semitism is increasing is a measure of the victory of Goebbels. Unless our final victory includes the defeat of anti-Semitism it will be a sham victory. I know that the Jews have been implicated in the black market, but so have Christians. It seems that whenever Jews are implicated in black market transactions it is news and that it is not such news when Christians are implicated. That is a curious sidelight and commentary upon existing affairs. When Jews are massacred in tens of thousands in Europe, it ceases to become news, but when half a dozen Jews are implicated in a black market transaction that is almost headline news. We should remember that for centuries, in every country, including our own, the Jews have been relegated to be money changers, bankers and middlemen. Is it really any wonder that there is a larger percentage of Jews to-day occupying those positions which lend themselves to illegal practices than of other races? I am not saying that as an excuse, but only as an explanation. What can be done?
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend has been misled into saying sdmething which I know he does not mean, but his words might be interpreted to mean that there were more Jews than others in this market. I am sure he does not think so.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do not think we need go any further into that question. It is getting very irrelevant.
I was only dealing with an argument which has been used, 1161 and I do not want to pursue the matter. I appreciate that the Under-Secretary was prevented by the requirements of security from stating all that the Bermuda Conference has done or has decided to do, and I hope that as months go by we shall see many things developing from the decisions taken at Bermuda. Some of us have drawn up a 12-point programme. I do not want to go into the whole of that programme, but I hope that the Bermuda Conference may result in some of the points being implemented.
I only want now to say something on two points. The first is the regulation dealing with the admission of refugees. Here may. I say that I welcome and appreciate the changes which have been announced? We have been accused of not being grateful for small mercies. We are grateful, but I cannot help remembering that a few months ago when through letters and deputations to the appropriate authorities we asked for some such changes we were met with a stony refusal. However, I am delighted that the Government have seen their way to make some concessions, even though they only affect a few hundreds. I have felt at times that what the hon. Lady said about the Home Secretary is true. I know he is a strong man, and when he says "No" it stays put. There is no characteristic I more admire in a man than the capacity to say "No" and go on saying it, but there is a point where this admirable characteristic degenerates into sheer obstinacy. I think at times that the Home Secretary says "No" for the love of saying so and out of sheer habit. We do, however, thank him now for the concessions he and his colleagues have made, and I can only hope they are the beginning of greater things to come.
The only other thing I want to say about the 12 points is on the question of machinery. I hope that the Bermuda Conference has planned international machinery and that there will be at the head of it somebody who will qualify for the title of "the new Nansen." I think it is essential that there should be at the head of the organisation a man as independent as possible of any Government control, a man able to go to neutral States and take decisions of his own. I realise how generous many of the neutral States have been. Personally, I believe the solution of the problem on any adequate 1162 scale must mean opening doors in South America, where alone there is sufficient food and supplies for any appreciable number of refugees. I would like also to take the opportunity of expressing appreciation of the action of our ally Mexico, which for many years now has played a magnificent part in admitting refugees of every religion and every nation to its hospitable shores.
Refusal to admit Jews to this or any other country is not going to solve the Jewish problem, any more than Hitler's method of extermination is going to solve it. I believe that by helping to get out of Europe even a small number we shall be doing something not only right in itself but something to right the wrongs of 1,500 years. No country has ever lost by admitting refugees into its territory. We in this country certainly have gained. The Government now have an opportunity of pursuing a policy not merely in keeping with the best traditions of our past but also in keeping with the highest tenets of the Christian religion. It is after all part and parcel of the battle we are engaged in we are fighting—justice, decency and toleration. If we win that battle, we shall have done more to solve the Jewish problem than by any other method. To-day we have a cause about which everybody in this country feels deeply and sincerely. There is no division of opinion. Whatever the Government are able to effect will in any case fall far short, I believe, of what the mass of the people would like to see done. Therefore I say they should not be alarmed by any cry of anti-Semitism. Let them take risks, greater perhaps than they think they should take. In answering this cry for help which comes to us from millions of persecuted people in Europe, they and we will gain not only in this world but the next.
§ Mr. Mander
(Wolverhampton, East): I should like to join in the tribute which my hon. and gallant Friend has just paid to the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) for the noble work she has done for so many years past. I think the hon. and gallant Member himself should be associated with that, because of the unselfish, devoted way in which he has worked on problems of this kind. It must be a source of great satisfaction to both of them that the Govern- 1163 ment are adopting a policy now which is going to be really helpful. As a result of the emotional scene in the House in December, as the result of the publication of the passionate plea by Mr. Victor Gollancz, "Let my people go," and of other appeals, the people of this country have been stirred up and are anxious, I believe, to see as much done as can possibly be done in the present difficult circumstances to rescue refugees. It is difficult to know all that is going on, because, for reasons of security, secrecy has to be observed about the Bermuda Conference, but my impression is that that conference has been a success and that as a result steps are to be taken and machinery established which will mean real progress. Those who are interested in this question know they cannot be given precise details of all arrangements, but they ought to be encouraged and gratified that the Government, under the very proper pressure of public opinion, have taken a line which I think is substantially in advance of anything they have done up to the present time.
Some suggestions have been put forward which I would like to comment upon. It has been suggested that we should enter into negotiations with Hitler and with Laval. I believe that would be an entirely wrong policy. These people are never moved by any dictates of humanity, and any such negotiations would only be used by them as blackmail against us. I noticed only yesterday in the newspapers a statement to the effect that the German Director of Labour had told Laval that he should stop the removal of children from areas endangered by air raids. That is typical of the type of mind with which we should have to negotiate if that suggestion were adopted. There is not the slightest hope of progress along any such lines. The only thing is unconditional surrender, and I hope that demand will be maintained.
It is agreed that the best way to help the refugees is to win the war in the shortest possible time. Every day saved means the saving of a considerable number of human lives. If we are to help refugees, we must not allow anything to to interfere with the war effort. Ships should not be used for the transport of refugees if they are needed for the purpose of carrying troops and ammunition. But 1164 at the same time I think we all want to see refugees helped when that first priority has been satisfied. I felt rather alarmed when a suggestion was put forward that we should bring refugees here and put them in concentration camps, for reasons of security. It is an alarming prospect and shows the extreme difficulty of the problem. We must keep our sense of proportion in dealing even with this terrible problem and not allow the trees to deprive us of the sight of the wood.
Unfortunately in the course of war operations sometimes we are obliged to take steps which may kill some of our friends in occupied Europe, but we none of us would wish to abstain from taking action which is going to advance the war to a successful conclusion because incidentally it may have that effect. I only mention that in order to emphasise that we must have everything in view in the frightful situation which exists. At the same time that should not prevent our doing everything we can to help those who can be helped to escape from Nazi tyranny. I would like to make a comment, if I may, on one of the cases mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities on page 20 of her pamphlet. It is case 3, and the reference to it is as follows:High official in the French Fighting Force applied for visas for Jewish family, escaped from France into Portugal. Visas granted for two sons to join the French Forces, but refused for their parents (60–70 years old).I do not see any great injustice there, because the parents have been rescued from France and are in Portugal. Surely that is an enormous advance on what was the situation before them previously. I think it is going rather far to suggest that it was a gross act of injustice and a great hardship that a person should be left in Portugal and not brought into this country.
Something has been said about the fact that this is not a purely Jewish question. Of course it is not, and it is a very great mistake and a great disservice to the cause to talk too much as if it were. It affects people of all races and of all kinds. Not only Jews are being exterminated; the Poles are being exterminated in very large numbers, and other races are threatened and are being treated in the same way. I am afraid it is the case that the Jewish problem will not be so difficult to settle after 1165 the war as might have been the case, because the number of Jews will have so greatly decreased by the inhuman massacres that have taken place that there will not be so many alive in Europe.
Something has been said about anti-Semitic propaganda, and I entirely agree with the view that to take any notice of it, to be influenced by it, is to fall into the trap of Nazi propaganda. That is exactly what they want us to be animated by—anti-Semitic feeling—and I hope that the public will be extremely careful not to be taken in by this propaganda that, in one form or another, is being continually put forward by our enemies. I do not believe there is a very great danger of anti-Semitic feeling. I believe that the people of this country, in the main, would support action by the Government to help refugees who are Jews, and I give just this one example. In my constituency from the important town of Willenhall there came quite spontaneously, and. was sent to me, a petition signed by a large number of the leading citizens of all parties and creeds urging very strongly that the Government should take action, and making it quite clear that they did not intend to be animated by any fears that appear to exist in some parts of this country. The Motion put down on the Order Paper by a number of hon. Members indicates the same thing. I hope that the Government can feel reassured that the House will support them in any action they may take.
The Government have announced today some important new points. I think they have made it clear that something is going to be done to relieve the situation so far as the neutral States are concerned in regard to whatever they may do for refugees. They have spoken about the new international machinery which is to be set up. I believe that is of enormous importance. It ought to have a proper status given to it, to be given money and have placed at its head some man of outstanding prestige and influence who can go about and deal with statesmen in different parts of the world and get things done without delay. I imagine that is what the Government, or the Governments represented at the Bermuda Conference, have in mind. I hope we may hear before long that some refugee camps have been set up, possibly in North Africa. Then the extended categories of persons to be 1166 admitted here are an advance too. Reference has been made to the fact that we are really doing a good deal, that something like 10,000 a year is the rate at which refugees are being allowed in here. Furthermore, we have undertaken to admit 34,000 into Palestine. I am afraid that very few have gone, and the difficulties in the way of transport are great but I hope it will be pursued with the utmost vigour. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), who spoke just now, referred to the great possibilities of Palestine in the future. This goes outside what we are considering at the present moment, but personally I feel that the White Paper policy adopted before the war should be scrapped and that the policy of the National Home for the Jews should be prosecuted properly after the war. There is no substitute of any kind from the Jewish point of view. Finally, I would say that I hope the Government will be kept up to the mark by public opinion, by this House, and that we shall expect to see results flowing from the Bermuda Conference. But never let us forget that the best hope of all people, whether refugees or anybody else, is more Tunis victories, more Stalingrads, more R.A.F. raids. Let us use to the utmost our terrible, swift sword, terrible for the Nazis, arid swift to save the refugees and those who are suffering in all parts of the world.
§ Sir Austin Hudson
(Hackney, North): I am very glad to have this opportunity of speaking very briefly in this Debate, because this subject of refugees is one which has been very close to my mind for some time past, the reason being that in my constituency about 60 per cent. of the electorate are Jewish, and of that percentage a very large number actually have relatives and friends—having come themselves to this country in comparatively recent years—who are in this grave danger, or who have already suffered from the Nazi terror. I want to support and add my word to the plea that everything possible—everything possible, I say—should be done by us to help these urh fortunate people. The Under-Secretary of State, in opening this Debate, seemed to think that the Government had been rather hardly used because of the fact that they were attacked, and that people were saying that they were doing nothing while in effect they had done, and were doing, 1167 a great deal. If I may say so, I think the Government are very largely to blame for that state of affairs. They seem to have acted in this matter very much in the way in which they acted in respect to the Beveridge Report—
§ Sir A. Hudson
I respect your Ruling, of course, Mr. Williams. The analogy was that they were not making the best of a good case. In this case I think they have a very good case, but they have the whole time stressed the difficulties and never emphasised the fact that they are going to do everything in their power to overcome those difficulties, however hard that may be. If only they would, in winding up this Debate, or whenever they make their next statement about the refugee problem, tell us frankly what they would like to do, I am perfectly certain that if what ultimately transpires falls short of their desires, this House would be the very last to blame them for that. But it is because there is widespread anxiety among certain people that we should do all we possibly can and the fact that the Government appear to be hedging makes them anxious lest the Government do nothing. Those of us who have the advantage of being able to talk to members of the Government responsible for this important matter know they are doing their very utmost, but they really cannot blame the country for suspecting them if they do not put in the shop window the goods they have. I know what is the reason for it. It is what I might call the Civil Service attitude, which I suffered from myself, particularly when I first became a Minister. One has a difficult problem and has to speak about it in the House. You ask the head of that Department what you are to say. He says, "You cannot say anything about it; it is far too complicated." The result is that a very good case often goes by default.
The Under-Secretary mentioned a Committee of Members of this House called the National Committee for Rescue from Nazi Terror, and seemed to have some suspicion of it. I can assure him that he need not be in the least suspicious of that Committee It was set up for a very 1168 simple reason. We found that a large number of organisations and members of this House were interested, and were all wanting to do something, and an endeavour was made to bring all those people together in one organisation, that is, this organisation with the rather long name. Surely it is an advantage to the Government that we should try to crystallise movements of this kind into a proper committee than that they should go unco-ordinated and thereby waste a great deal of their initial energy. As one or two Members have said, this organisation has tried to put its general ideas into the form of 12 points and these points have, I think, been distributed to all Members. I am, on the whole, generally in agreement with these points, because I happen to be a vice-president of the organisation. But there is one particular point, No. 1, on which I wish to say a word, because I think it is being stressed too much. The problem we are facing is one of gigantic size. If we are really to help, we have got to get out of enemy-occupied country very large numbers of people, and I do not believe that we can do that by admitting any large number more of refugees to this country. I think we have done a good deal; the figures were given by the Under-Secretary, and I do not believe we can do very much more in that way. We heard with gratitude the fact that there are certain small classes extra which are to be admitted to this country.
I want to stress to the Committee that in my view the greatest danger, I might almost say now the only danger, before this country in this war is the danger of U-boat warfare. In my opinion, therefore, we must not do anything, however small, to increase that danger. If we are to bring large numbers of refugees to this country, and particularly if they are what I might call old refugees, that is, refugees of a certain age who cannot be of help to the country, then we are, in my view, increasing the danger in two ways. First of all, we would be using ships which ought to be bringing in food and munitions. Secondly, it would be increasing the number of useless mouths in this country. The Government, ever since the war, have had, and must have, a definite policy as regards aliens, and that must be governed by common sense and not by sentiment. The policy has been only to admit, with certain exceptions, 1169 useful aliens to this country, and incidentally when I say aliens there is no discrimination made by the Government, and rightly no discrimination is made, as to whether those aliens are Jewish or of any other faith. That policy may be, and is, disappointing to a certain number of people who have aged relatives whom they hoped might come here. I cannot help saying, in spite of the many friends I have to whom this is disappointing, that I am perfectly certain that such a policy is right, and if it is right we must back the Government up in applying it. We cannot afford to be sentimental in total war. To lose the war would be the one thing which would finally destroy any hope for these unfortunate people. Nothing would suit Hitler better than to be able to send every useless alien to this country, because he would be giving us a problem to solve which would be practically insoluble, and, at the same time, relieving himself of an obligation which he is finding it very difficult to carry out.
§ Mr. Lipson
(Cheltenham): Is the hon. Member aware that the Under-Secretary said that it was no use approaching the German Government because they would not let these people go?
§ Sir A. Hudson
I am perfectly certain that what I say is true. It is common sense. If every useless person could be sent to this country, thereby relieving the Germans and giving us the most awful problem to solve, it would assist them in the war. But, in my opinion, we cannot look to this country for the large numbers of people that we want to see rescued from the Nazi terror. We must look for some alternative plan, which has not the disadvantages of increasing our danger from U-boat warfare. I think we can devise such a scheme if we use the empty ships which must be returning from Europe atter bringing munitions, troops, or supplies. To do that we must set up settlements in foreign countries. I believe that there is great hope for such settlements in North Africa, where there seem to be just the circumstances which are necessary. I believe, although I have not had this information actually from the Government, that this is in the mind of the Government. They are always telling us that they have to consult other countries. It is a fact that if you put these camps down in other countries, you have to consult them as to the best places 1170 to use. I ask the Government to proceed on those lines with the greatest possible boldness.
I want to say a word about that extraordinary letter in the "Times" newspaper yesterday, from the Bishop of Chichester. I think that it is one of the cruellest letters I have ever seen, because it raises hopes which it is quite impossible to fulfil. I am going to quote that sentence which I think is so cruel:It is quite certain that if the British and American Governments were determined to achieve a programme of rescue in some way commensurate with the vastness of the need, they could do it.Anybody reading that would say "The Bishop lives in a palace, and obviously is a man of wisdom. He must know something that we do not know. He knows that the Government could rescue our friends and relatives if only they had the will." The Under-Secretary has said that he challenges the Bishop to produce a plan. If he cannot do so, I hope that yet another of these political priests will hold his tongue on subjects of this kind.
I would like to say a word about anti-Semitism. I know something about this subject, in view of the peculiar composition of my own constituency. I am aware that there is ill-feeling between the Jews and the Christians in my constituency. There is no doubt about that. But I am convinced that that ill-feeling is not political in any way. It arises from the fact that in the last decade or so, large numbers of people, who have only recently come from the Continent, have come to live in that neighbourhood. Their customs, their ways of living, are different. I know, from the letters I have received, asking whether it is true that many more aliens are coming, that some of the old inhabitants have found the position very difficult. A lot more toleration is required. The one question which crops up all the time in my correspondence on this matter is the question of Sunday observance. In every letter there is a complaint from the Christian that the Jew is doing something on a Sunday which is repugnant to the Christian inhabitants, who probably lived there long before the Jew came. Once you get the religious element brought in, you will have very strong feeling. We in this House know that this country is very deeply religious, although some people 1171 may not think so. You have only to remember the Prayer Book Debates, the controversy about Sunday opening of theatres, and that sort of thing. I have done my best to make things easier, and certainly anti-Semitism in a constituency such as mine is not a matter of world wide importance. What we want is greater toleration, not only from the Gentile for the Jew but also from the Jew for the Gentile, particularly on questions of religion.
I have spoken on this important question of refugees. I have tried to show why I do not believe it can be solved by bringing great numbers to this country, partly because of the danger to the country, and partly because the number could never be so great as we would wish. I have tried to show how the problem could be dealt with by having camps in other countries, particularly in North Africa. I would appeal to the Government to be over-bold rather than over-cautious. Then they would find the whole country behind them.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
want to dispose, briefly, of two small points. On the question of security, I entirely understand the Government's view, but I would say this. If, taking the thing to its ultimate conclusion, it should be necessary to put every refugee who is rescued into internment, I do not believe that, either on moral or on practical grounds, one should object. There is no refugee who would not prefer internment, outside Hitler's control, for the duration of the war, to remaining where he is. On the whole problem of food and transport, I would say that you can do it if you care enough about it. In the last few weeks we have had thrown into our hands something like 200,000 extra people, whom we have to feed. They are our prisoners in Tunisia. Nobody suggests that that cannot be done. There are ships enough to transport and feed those refugees, whom the right hon. Gentleman himself said would be in far smaller numbers, if you care enough about it. The doubt which has alarmed me in common with many others in all this business is whether this Government care enough. The hon. Member for North Hackney (Sir A. Hudson) said that you cannot afford to be sentimental in total war. I agree; but I would put the thing the other way 1172 round, and ask, "Does this Government understand that, even in total war, moral forces produce their results"? It is this fact which we are afraid is not understood on the Government Benches. People have been told it for 2,000 years. Moral forces, if you use them courageously, produce material results, here and now.
§ Mr. Magnay
Does the hon. Member suggest that these things will happen by return of post? He says that 2,000 years have past, and they have not happened yet.
§ Sir R. Acland
I do suggest that it would actually produce a physical shortening of the war if Government policy revealed, more clearly than it does at present, a moral basis, in all sorts of ways.
§ Sir R. Acland
I will not be drawn into arguments of that kind, but I say, flat out, that I did not do so. In view of my promise to the Chair, I will not be interrupted any more. I say that if you care enough, these things can be done. The right hon. Gentleman, insopening this Debate, said that there was a great deal of human distress in this country on this subject. There is. It is caused not only by contemplating the indescribable sufferings of other people, but by wondering whether we have not the atmosphere in Government Departments that at one time we thought we had got rid of. We do not find in our Government men who say, "Being the Government, and having been selected by you, presumably, because you think we are the people best fitted to do the job, we will show you how the Government can do more than ordinary people expect." On all sorts of questions, such as the distressed areas, non-intervention, the Beveridge Report, and now this matter, we find that instead of that, we get a Government who seem to think it is their business to explain, so logically, but oh so timidly, just why these things cannot be done.
I know that this is not solely a Jewish question. It concerns many other races, 1173 and many other peoples. But I think that most people will agree that it is a Jewish question in a different degree from the degree in which it is a question of any other race. That difference in degree is so great as to amount to a difference in kind. This is what I want to say to the House; and I wish I had time to develop the argument, which I confess I have only recently become aware of myself. Anti-Semitism, which is a world force, is not simply an attack on the Jews; it is the supreme attack on Christ. That may seem a strange statement, but I believe it to be true. The united powers of world evil dare not attack Christ and Christianity direct, and, in their frustration, they are psychologically distorted, and emerge in this demoniac form of anti-Semitism. Those who are wrestling with the problem of anti-Semitism I would beg to read the book where this argument is set out—and it was a revelation to me—I refer to the book by Marcus Samuel, "The Great Hatred." If anti-Semitism is seen as the attack on Christ, it becomes the more terrible that it may be doubted —as it is being doubted—whether this Government care enough.
I will give three reasons which seem to me to prove unmistakably that this Government do not care enough. First, the Government have not appointed one man of outstanding character and given him responsibility, as a full-time job, for putting dynamic energy behind all the things which are being done. The second proof, a small one, I take from one of the so-called concessions that have been announced to-day. A man who is prepared to fight in the Fighting Forces is to be granted a visa provided he is fit. The only reason for putting in that qualification as being a qualification which will entitle a man to a visa is that, if the man does not satisfy the qualification, he will not be entitled to the visa. Therefore if you get a man who is willing to fight in the Allied forces who is unfit to do so, you say, "No, you cannot have a visa." The evil of this is that men may be, for that reason, left behind in neutral countries, and it is our ability to take these men out of neutral countries which increases the ability of neutral countries to take them in. You may say that it will only affect a very few, but you should remember—Inasmuch as you did it not unto one of the least of these my brethren…1174 If the concession that a man should be willing to fight for the country is to stand, we should wipe out the question of his being physically fit. Take in these men if you can get them whether they are physically fit or not.
The final reason why I say the Government do not care enough is heranse they have not made the declaration which they could make—that the British Empire, subject to security, of course, will give sanctuary and succour to every Jew who can reach any British frontier or any port where any British ship can call. You could make that declaration and you could back it by action. The Government themselves have given the evidence that only a very few could be involved. Or is it perhaps the case that they are afraid? If they made that sort of declaration it might be something rather more than a benefit to a few. Is it perhaps because they are afraid, that if we did our all in this matter it might not be a question of a few but a question of many thousands? The Government are disappointing the forces of moral decency in this country over this business. There is no doubt about that. The forces of moral decency in this country have only themselves to blame if they are perpetually disregarded because they have organised themselves so ineffectually for political action. I believe they are now beginning to organise themselves more effectively, and those who stand against these forces will not sit on those benches very much longer.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
(Gower): I am bound to confess that I too feel a sense of disappointment with the Debate we have had to-day. Circumstances may have dictated the conditions under which we were to debate, but it would have been an advantage if the Debate had been held in Secret Session. There are so many things about which we really cannot talk in the hearing of the world public, and I have therefore every willingness to accommodate myself to the official reticence in these matters. I would like to see evidence of a little greater warmth of feeling and a greater realisation of this tremendous problem with which we are now faced and which will grow in intensity and importance as the time passes. I see very little sign of any preparation for what I believe to be 1175 the possibilities of a first-class catastrophe in Europe when the circumstances fully develop. I would have been content today if I had been assured by what the right hon. Gentleman said and by what we have heard in other Debates. I would like the House to be assured that the Government are fully seized with the importance of this terrible pending calamity which has already alarmed the world. I do not remember an expression of spontaneous feeling in this House rivalling that which we witnessed when the right hon. Gentleman read an account of the proceedings in Poland and Middle Europe and an hon. Friend behind me, moved by what the right hon. Gentleman had said, rose to his feet and carried the House with him, lifting everybody in this House to a standing position, to express our abhorrence and our deep concern at what the right hon. Gentleman had disclosed in Europe. That feeling was not confined to this House. The outside public welcomed that sign of warmth by hon. Members.
We have great virtues in this House and in this country, and, while we do not parade our feelings, we know how to give way to our feelings at the right time. I am sure that hon. Members expressed the feelings of the House. We do not know sufficient of the facts. It is difficult to get information from the prison which Europe is to-day, and it is difficult to visualise the conditions which convey the picture of Europe as it is. Our people have an instinctive regard and capacity for right judgments and they applauded and approved of the gesture on that occasion. I have had letters from my own division. I did not know how same things, freely circulated in some parts, get so widely known throughout the country. I have had correspondence from people I have never met and with people in my own division quoting from the "Manchester Guardian" report, and from the statement which the hon. Member read to-day and from written and spoken words of bishops, who are not discounted in this country. I was really disappointed on this point in regard to the people who started the Committee with a long name and of which I am a member also. I thought by the derisive note that I was fortunate in not being named in that company. I am a member of that Committee, and I find that it represents the 1176 religious and the best moral forces of this country. They brought me in simply as a Member of the House of Commons in a minor capacity. They tried their best to organise something in this country which would give practical effect to the feeling of the House as manifested a few months ago.
What is the kind of problem with which we are faced? Germany is suffering and has been suffering for years from a kind of mania movement based on anti-Semitism, which is anti-Christian, and anti everything which is not' Nazi, looking for culprits in every corner of German society, and getting the Germans to hate the Jews. One hears in this House and sometimes in the country that Jews are a formidable branch of the human race and are out-numbering everybody else and usurping the ordinary man whether in London, Berlin or elsewhere. The contrary is the fact. The Jews are a very small proportion of the German Reich; they are less than one per cent. of the German Reich, and less than one per cent. of the population of this country. I have often asked myself and the German people in the days before the war, What is wrong with 99 Germans when they cannot look after one Jew? Why should 99 Englishmen be induced to hate one Jew? There is something wrong when they cannot order their joint lives so that everyone plays his proper part in society. There is a pernicious moral element at work in Europe, the effects of which are not confined to the atrocities now being committed there. We are witnessing the degeneration of Europe, not of the Jews, under the stress of this propaganda movement which is being directed against them. We have witnessed in Germany a return to the executioner's axe, freely employed upon political as well as racial opponents. We have seen in recent months the Germans resort to mass murder with deadly, lethal weapons and with electricity and gas—a terrible thing which makes decent-minded people despair of the humanity that is capable of condoning such happenings without expressing a deep sense of revolt and shame.
I think it would be a very unhealthy sign if we in this country and in this House were to regard this matter as a mere nuisance, as a complication of the international situation, that we could not get on quite as well with America if we 1177 said this or that. We must take our responsibility of removing these people from the dangers which threaten them and transfer them to some other safe place in the world. Safe places are not many nowadays but we are blessed inasmuch as we have safer places of refuge than any other country. I am quite prepared to agree that there are difficulties, because we have not enough shipping or transport, that there are political complications and the like, but I very much deplore any indication that this House is prepared to accept that position as the last word and assume that nothing can be done because of the difficulties which are standing in the way. I do not want to judge the Bermuda Conference yet, because I do not know enough about it. There are two sides to a conference. We were parties, and there were other parties. I do not know. which were more willing to do the things which I would like to see done, and I do not know who stressed the difficulties most. I do not know whether we attempted to persuade the Americans to come forward, or whether we found we could not do so because evidence of unwillingness may have been displayed. I do not know, and at all events I do not think it would be wise to discuss this in public, because it would lead to dangerous controversy.
I would, however, like to get an assurance that these mass murders in the East and South-East of Europe, these revolting crimes, this terrible destruction of human life and human morality will not be allowed to pass without our having something to say, and that as an indication of our interest we are prepared to build up an organisation to give succour and relief to as many as can escape. We cannot get into the heart of Poland to take them out or ask the Germans to release them, but we should say to those who come within reach of our hands that we will help them. Are we prepared to do that? If so, we ought to say so in this House. Our people should know. If there are impossible difficulties, they should know, and if there are temporary difficulties which cannot be spoken about, a clear hint should be given. I understand that there are about 40,000 people in Persia. Possibly the reservoir has been partly drained there but they might go in greater numbers to Palestine. After all, it is the Jewish home. Whatever can be said about that ancient place, the Jewish race have built up a new life in that coun- 1178 try. May I read a telegram I have received from people who sent it to me when they heard that I was to speak in this Debate? Here it is:Received now new reliable reports Nazis mass murdering Jews. Personally carefully investigated new witnesses who left Poland January, 1943. Absolutely confirmation, most horrible details. Daily murder 1,000 Jews, including women and children under 12. From Holy City in most critical hour. For whole democracy on behalf humanitarian religious workers' organisations. Raise your voice public opinion. Create special organisation. Necessary practical measures to save remnants. Exchange Jews for Germans. Allied countries open gates refugees. Act immediately. Deadly danger.Those are expressions of opinion from people in Palestine. The Palestine Jews will open the door themselves to take their racial kindred into their own homes. I do not know what the number may be, but we are now in complete charge of North Africa, and I believe we shall remain in full charge until the end of the war. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the French?"] A lot of work has to be done before it is finally decided who is to be the custodian of public affairs in that part of the world. But for the moment that part of Africa is accessible. We have sufficient authority to invite people who can escape from Europe.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a friendly question? It has nothing to do with refugees, but, as he referred to it, I presume it is in Order. Surely he does not suggest that we or the Americans have a free hand in North Africa? It would be most serious if the suggestion went out from this bench that the French Government that has been set up has no say in the matter.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The French Government never had authority over the whole of North Africa. Cyrenaica and Libya were never French. I know what I am speaking of. We want to make use of whatever accommodation we have in the world, and that may be the most likely immediate place of accommodation for these people. I know how difficult it is, with the best will in the world, to move people for thousands of miles to a place of security and safety, but I should not like every idea that is put up to be deprecated and scorned. The Under-Secretary said it was not possible to give block visas. We should have to check everyone and communicate with the Home Office and see whether we could in advance vouch at 1179 both ends for every single person who was to be supplied with a visa. That is not quite true. [Interrup,tion.] I thought it was. If it is not, I withdraw it. But the point is that it is not an insuperable obstacle. In 1938 there were people round about Prague who were suffering from Nazi ill-treatment and did not know how to get away. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor gave me authority to go to Prague and make out a list, with the assurance in advance that 400 visas would be granted in a block, and we began an exodus of refugees. I myself took the first two parties to Gdyne and afterwards established a courier system which resulted in thousands of people being brought away. I do not think it is impossible to supply facilities. I will not name any independent country which is now receiving some of these refugees, and I am careful not to do anything which will offend, not the susceptibilities but the necessities of the Foreign Office. I should like to dismiss much of this complaint and bickering against the Government, but the Government are not bold enough in my opinion. In striking this attitude they are not satisfying the expectations of the world. We are still held in very high esteem throughout the world, and that esteem is invaluable to us. It will be a factor in settling the problems that will remain after the war is finished.
I think the problem of the refugees will become far more intensified when Europe cracks up. What are we to do then to relieye Europe not only of the persecuted Jews but of political victims and refugees of all kinds? With the help of the Allied Nations, we may have a great opportunity of giving succour and security to hundreds of thousands. There have been refugees after every violent change of Government, every revolution and every war. This terrible problem of the Jews is assuming worse and worse forms day by day. It may suddenly, almost overnight, assume overwhelming proportions of a dreadful character. My proposal is that there should be appointed a person of high authority, under whatever Department you like, co-operating with representatives of other countries in forming contacts and links in all the enemy-occupied countries and in friendly countries. I believe the time has come when we should be making contacts inside enemy countries with the victims of persecution. If the right hon. 1180 Gentleman could give that assurance, he would carry the Committee with him and he would earn the gratitude of the people of the country, who want the right and decent thing done. The right and decent thing is to adopt bold measures and to plan for giving relief and security to those who have lost their homes in the course of the war. A master plan should be prepared to put into execution when the time comes.
§ Mr. Butcher
(Holland with Boston): I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I suggest that there is some tendency at present to mix feelings with facts. If feelings were all that were required, there would have been no refugee problem, because the doors of the country would have been opened wide to receive people of all races and from all quarters. But we are faced with inescapable facts and we are doing a disservice to refugees of all kinds unless we are prepared to face them freely and frankly. The first is that Hitler is unwilling in the main to allow these people to go, therefore the chances are that those who present themselves in neutral countries before our consular agents are either people who have evaded the clutches of the Gestapo, or who have reached that point with the connivance of the German authorities. The second fact is that this is not a Jewish problem. The Under-Secretary said that there are in Europe at present 120,000,000 potential refugees. I can conceive nothing more likely to create anti-Semitism in this country than to let the feeling get abroad that every Jew or Jewess is to have a special measure of relief which is not open to the Norwegian pastor, the Dutch politician or the French trade unionist. There must be perfect equality of treatment for every race and every creed.
§ Commander Locker-Lampson
(Birmingham, Handsworth): The Jews are the only people who have not a home. The Poles have a home.
§ Mr. Butcher
I am not going to argue on those lines. At all costs, we must not allow anti-Semitism to increase, and it is going -to increase if Jews receive special treatment. It is increasing and I regret it very much, but the arguments of the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone), sincere as they are, will not work. Let us look at the arguments which have been 1181 developed on this problem. I speak as one who has great sympathy for refugees. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows how I used to worry him in the days before the war. I have had Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany in my own home and were the same circumstances to occur again the same door would be open to them. Before, the hon. Lady was right and the Home Office was wrong, but at the present time the Home Office is right and the hon. Lady is wrong because circumstances have been entirely reversed by the war. What was the position? First, these people—I speak now of the Jews in the main—came to this country as refugees from Nazi oppression. Then the claim was made that if they could not be received into the community we should establish an internment camp as was established at Richborough, which the Noble Lord and I had the privilege of visiting. They were established there in order to secure some remnants of the Jewish race. Then the war broke out. The third claim was that the refugees interned in this camp and people elsewhere in this country to whom we had given refuge should have the restrictions on the conditions on which they were permitted to enter this country removed, and also that they should have an opportunity of making a choice, which was not available at that time to ordinary Englishmen and women, whether they should serve or not serve. As soon as that point had been conceded the next claim was that, having elected to serve, they should as a right secure British nationality. Finally, the claim is being made that because they are serving and assisting the war effort in that way their relatives should as a right be brought into this country.
I say, frankly, that we can only deal with this matter if we deal with it on a strictly factual basis. The facts remain, and the fact which impresses itself on me more than any other is that in view of the unwillingness of the German authorities to release these people and in view of the fact that nothing we can do can touch but a fringe of the problem, the only way to bring relief to Europe as a whole is by achieving victory at the earliest possible moment. How much shipping are we willing to divert at the risk of delaying that victory? If we divert only a ship or two we make no contribution whatever to this appalling problem of 1182 rescuing from German terror not a few thousand Jews, but the whole continent of Europe, with tiny exceptions. If, on the other hand, we divert an enormous amount of shipping, together with the organisation which controls and handles shipping, we shall delay victory and the chances of ultimate rescue recede.
I therefore say to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secietary, "You were very slow at the Home Office before the war. I believe you could have done a great deal more when it was a question of allowing people into this country on transit visas and putting them into camps. At the present time I believe that were much more to be done you would only do it at the risk of impeding the war effort. Nevertheless, the fact remains that these people are getting into certain neutral countries and I hope the decisions that were made at the Bermuda Conference will be implemented." The criticisms made in various quarters of the Committee that there is a time lag between decision and performance are justifiable; they are inherent in any Government action. I beg that in cases where no question of security arises, cases of children and so on, the most immediate measures will be taken so far as the Government can take them. Similarly, in cases where it is decided that security questions operate I hope that the Government will deal with these things in the most speedy manner possible. Do not let these questions of security wait a moment longer than can be helped.
I ask any hon. Gentleman who does not agree with everything I have said to accept my assurance that I regard this appalling problem of the refugees with the same sympathy and deep feeling that they do. But I hope that they will be able to share my view that only by the complete overthrow of the Hitler power can any solid, real hope come to the people on the continent of Europe. Do not let us bring such pressure on the Government that will cause them to divert any of the means that are necessary to achieve victory.
§ Professor A. V. Hill
(Cambridge University): I do not agree with all that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) said, but I do agree cordially with his thesis that nothing we do must be allowed to hinder our efforts in bringing the war to an end. That is the 1183 one condition above all else in this matter and I hope to develop that point later on. I could not agree more than I do with the hon. Member for North Hackney (Sir A. Hudson) on what he referred to as the magnitude of the failure of the Government to put across their own case. That was referred to in another form by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who said that there had been a failure in the warmth of feeling and that the need for a more generous expression on the part of the Government had not been realised. I am glad that the hon. Member for Gower does not believe that things are impossible merely because he is told they are impossible. I am convinced, with him, that if this matter were approached rather in the spirit in which he said he would approach it, more could get done. I think that the hon. Member or North Hackney possibly exaggerates the numbers who could be brought here. The possibilities of bringing large numbers are extremely small. As he said, we must look for an alternative solution.
There is a deep moral significance in the widespread public concern of which this Debate is a manifestation. The Committee will have listened with the greatest interest and will have been moved by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet) who, except for the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone), has done more in the cause of refugees than any of us. He can speak on this subject with more feeling than I dare allow myself to do. If I speak more coldly, perhaps more arithmetically, I do so the less reluctantly because he has already said much better than I could what I should have liked to say. I would like to join with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in the tribute which lie paid both to the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham for what he said and for his work and to the hon. Lady, whom we might call the patron saint of refugees.
The deep moral significance of this Debate explains the impatience and concern with which the attitude, or rather the apparent attitude, of the Government has been seen by the public. The impatience and the concern may have been foolish and misguided, but they were a 1184 reality and based upon very genuine feeling. Some of that impatience will have been dissipated to-day, but not all of it, I am afraid. We still have a little too much of the elderly school mistress telling off her naughty pupils. It is all too easy for us to get used to horrors, to any horrors. Men, like doctors, can be put into two classes, those whose contact with suffering make them more sympathetic and those whom it hardens. The hon. Lady who spoke earlier is certainly in the first class. In the years of isolation and non-intervention, too many of us learned, like the Pharisee, to pass by on the other side. We recognise now the futility as well as the cruelty of that attitude. We realise that an assault upon decency and justice anywhere is an assault upon decency and justice everywhere, and the average Englishman wants to have done with what he regards, perhaps wrongly, as the evasion that occurred in the years of non-intervention and to get on with the attempt to salvage what we can of the human wreckage thrown up by the Nazi terror. Perhaps he is wrong in feeling there is evasion here, but at any rate he feels it.
The Under-Secretary referred to the wide variety of refugees that exist in the world. In the widest sense, covering all those who have been driven from their homes, there must be tens of millions. In the narrower sense of those who would gladly get out of their homes if they could to somewhere where there is less danger, there must be, I should say 100,000,000 or more. And in the narrower sense we are dealing with to-day, those whom we can hope to save from their imminent danger, there are not millions, and perhaps not hundreds of thousands, but certainly tens of thousands. The major problem will tax to the utmost all the resources of goodwill and statesmanship of which the Allied Nations are capable. The main object of this Debate is to discuss the minor problem, if one may call it that, of providing immediate help to those in imminent danger, but it is a very suitable preface and introduction to the much more difficult problem which some day we shall have to face. If the Home Secretary were to see a drowning child in a pond he would jump in at once to save it, regardless of his clothes. He would not argue that he had saved other children already, or that the shipping position made it necessary for him to be care- 1185 ful of his trousers, or that it was essential first to call a conference of all those others who might equally well jump in, or even say that some people do not like children anyway. He would forget his dignity and his past virtues, he would forget his trousers, he would forget other people's obligations, he would forget his rich uncle who does not like children, and would go straight into the pond.
A shipwreck or an accident in a pit calls up at once the same kind of intuitive impulse to go to the rescue. That is an impulse which is not to be despised. To count the probable cost too closely or too long is to deny the common humanity which no community, great or small, can afford to give up if it is to hold together. If the major problem of refugees and the restoration of the desolated world are ever to be successfully tackled, it would be disastrous now to deny whatever practical expression is possible to this moral impulse to offer help at once to fellow beings in peril.
The Under-Secretary and others have urged us to-day, and I have urged myself, that in anything we propose to do in rescuing the potential victims of the Nazi terror we must bear in mind the dominant consideration of bringing the war at the earliest possible moment to a final issue. It is no use to make a quantitative estimate of the total suffering and loss in the world as a whole due to the present state of war. The loss of life due directly to military action is only a fraction of that from other causes—famine, exposure, disease, disorder and massacre. That in its turn is only a small part of the total loss of human values—health, security, order, education and prosperity which the war has involved. In Europe as a whole the civilian death-rate may very well be increased by a half in the war. That is probably a moderate estimate. That would mean 3,000,000 or so extra deaths per annum. Adding those in China and in countries now occupied by the Japanese, and including direct military losses, I imagine that in the world as a whole there are between 5,000,000 and 10,000,000 people dying annually owing to the war, that is, between 100,000 and 200,000 per week. This is altogether apart from the other losses in human values.
The only way to save those lives and those values is to bring the war as soon 1186 as possible to a victorious end. Nothing we can conceivably do otherwise to help the potential victims of Nazi misery can compare with what would be saved by shortening the war even by a fortnight. I think it is very necessary to be clear about that. Unthinking sentimental people in comfortable England—I get many letters from them—write saying that if it means prolonging the war we must do all we can to save these victims. They forget that the war is injuring not them alone but the whole populations of Europe and Asia. The prime consideration therefore in anything we do in helping these threatened victims of Nazi savagery is that everything that can be used shall be used in our offensive effort to bring victory quicker. That may sound like a counsel of despair.
What, then, can be done? I fear it is pitiably small. It would be impossible on the one hand to exaggerate the misery and the crime; enough has been said about that already, and were it ten times greater, or less, it would make no difference to one's estimate of it. Appeals to common humanity and justice would be exactly the same. But it is possible, at any rate it is usual and frequent, to overestimate what we can do. The numbers who will be able to get away is very small, tens of thousands perhaps, certainly not hundreds and thousands. It is commonly said that our shipping difficulties are so great that we cannot take on the obligation of feeding another 10,000 people in this country. Can it really be argued that we are so near to the absolute limits of our capacity that if each of us had to give up two ounces of food per annum it would make all the difference to us?
Is transport really so difficult? Are not ships returning in ballast to this country and America from North Africa? In asking other countries to bear their share of the burden and the privilege of saving these people, should we not demonstrate our own willingness forthwith to bear an appropriate, not an exaggerated, part of the burden? Will the United Nations find any fundamental difficulty in dealing with the problem of the 2000,000 prisoners from North Africa? The total number of refugees that we can possibly hope to save is only a fraction of that number.
It is not sense to say that we cannot tackle this tiny job, if we want to. There are some who imagine that we can do much more by negotiating with the Nazis. 1187 Most people feel that it would be about as useful to negotiate with Hitler as with a professional blackmailer on this or on any other subject. We have learned too much about him. Before we knew where we were some more victims for blackmail would be put on the spot. All we can possibly do is to offer help and asylum to those who are able, in one way or another, to get out, and to offer that help quickly. If we were to relieve neutral countries as soon as practicable of the burden of responsibility and hospitality for refugees from enemy occupied countries on their borders, those neutral countries would, perhaps, be the readier to accept and help those who wish to escape. That is all that we can do. Let us look at the practical problem, the limitations and dimensions of which can put no strain on our capacity for waging offensive war, and will not encourage fresh Nazi threats of savagery against a new class of victims. We know very well that the Government, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs particularly, are sympathetic and want to do whatever is possible in this matter, but they are busy people. A great deal of impatience has been felt about the Government and I should have felt more impatience myself had I not believed in the good intentions of the Government and had I not known, as a biologist, that the period of gestation increases with the size of the animal, from a few weeks in the case of a rabbit to 18 months in that of the elephant—and His Majesty's Government is a great deal bigger than a rabbit.
The hon. and gallant Member for North-West Kingston-upon-Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) referred to the alleged danger of anti-Semitism here, and so did the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Colonel Cazalet) and other speakers. It has been urged on the Home Secretary that a danger of anti-Semitism will exist, if more Jews are introduced here. This, again, is the argument of the last straw. Are the Jews so powerful and baneful an influence that one extra Jew among 5,000 Englishmen will make the whole mixture unstable? That is the proposition. To those who prefer arithmetic to magic, the whole thing is pure moonshine, but Hitler has managed to put his own pet obsession across among an otherwise sensible people. We hear wonderful stories about the number of Jews in Great Britain who have arrived 1188 here in the last ten years. An hon. Member asked me recently what on earth we were to do with the 40,000 Jewish doctors who were now in this country. As a matter of fact he had got the number 50 times too large. The Jews are said to be living in luxury while others fight; but the records of the last war and of this one show that this insult is completely unwarranted, either as to the number of those serving, or the number of distinctions for gallantry. The country is said to be flooded with Jewish refugees; in fact 60,000 or 70,000 have come in since 1933, and of that number between 10,000 and 20,000 came in as children, of whom many are still children. That is one to 700 of our population, which seems to make a funny sort of flood, not comparable with the one which has just been made by the R.A.F.
It is said that the danger to our national traditions from having so many Jews here must be regarded; but our national traditions must be pretty weak things if people who make up rather less than one per cent. of the whole can produce so great an effect. One is forced to regard anti-Semitism as a sort of contagious mental disease upon the victims of which facts and arguments are completely without effect. Ridicule, not reason, is the only form of treatment. To suggest, as responsible people sometimes do, that there is serious danger of anti-Semitism here if an extra 10,000 Jews are introduced from Europe, one in 5,000 of our people, is a gross insult to the intelligence, good nature and cornmonsense of the normal citizen and is to confess oneself the foolish dupe of Nazi propaganda. The success of that propaganda shows that there is little chance for the human race being able to settle its affairs sensibly if it does not learn to examine critically and quantitatively what it is told.
The task of rescue from Nazi massacres is only the beginning, or the end of the beginning. The much greater task lying before us is of restoring shall we say 50,000,000 refugees to their homes all over the world and of bringing back order and civilisation to a distracted world. In that task, the British Commonwealth and the United States should be working together. Presumably the Bermuda Conference discussed not only the immediate problem but the major long-term problem of refugees 1189 in general. One of the chief hopes of the future lies in close and friendly co-operation between the Commonwealth of Nafions and the United States. That collaboration is easiest and most effective when we are actually doing an honest job of work together, in science or in medicine or in exploration or, as now, in fighting a common enemy, or in trying to rescue and sustain the victims of an almost universal shipwreck. In trying to do an honest job together we can learn to understand and appreciate each other better than by arguing politics or anything else around the conference table. By working together on a common job it becomes unthinkable that we shall not continue to co-operate. As the British delegates to Bermuda have pulled off this new form of disinterested co-operation with the United States, in trying to solve a problem which is bound to tax all the resources of statesmanship, we are deeply in their debt. The public concern of which this Debate is a climax has indeed borne fruit of a different kind. I, for one, shall forget my impatience during the last five months and the ungenerous attitude—I say so flatly—of the Home Office, and reflect that after all the greater animals have the greater period of gestation.
§ Mr. Colegate
(The Wrekin): I think my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will, on the whole, have appreciated the tributes that have been paid to him during the Debate.His speech was extraordinarily balanced. I must confess, however, that I was disappointed in some of the critics of the Government, for this problem is not one to be solved by emotion. It is one which has to be solved by difficult administrative measures carried out in a world of unparalleled chaos. I listened with great care to hear what suggestions were put forward which the Government might adopt but have not adopted. What did they amount to? Very little. We all of us—I say this without exception—sympathise to the very utmost with the horrible sufferings of all classes of refugees, but that does not help when we come to practical remedies. One remedy suggested by the hon. Mem-ber for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) was moral force. He accused the Government of not using sufficient moral force and said that if they had that, the problem would have been solved without difficulty. What a lack of imagination that shows. If moral force and prayer could solve 1190 this problem, what about the tortured mothers and fathers in Germany, and in the whole of Europe? Have they not been praying for years? If moral force could solve this problem, it would have been solved months and years ago. The fact is that the evils which have to be met must be dealt with by administrative measures arid not moral force.
Another remedy suggested was that some man should be found who would be another Dr. Nansen. People who say that cannot realise what Dr. Nansen did and what were the difficulties at that time. Conditions at this time are not those of the last war. They are far more difficult. The Junior Member for the University of Cambridge (Professor Hill) talked about the Under-Secretary as a kind-hearted man who, if he saw a baby in a pond, would immediately jump in to rescue it. But the baby is not in the pond. It is in the middle of Germany, and one cannot jump in and get it out. Until we realise the practical difficulties, all similes of babies in ponds just fall by the way.
I must say a word about anti-Semitism. Honestly, I think that the Jews to-day in this country are suffering from the over-zealousness of their friends. Some of the propaganda simply repels me and puts me absolutely against the Jews, although I have many good and dear Jewish friends and no feeling of anti-Semitism. Some of the propaganda and some of the things that are being done are really dangerous. Let me give the Junior Member for Cambridge University an illustration. He says we are supposed to fear anti-Semitism coming into this country because of the introduction of another 10,000 Jews, or one in 5,000 of the population. I quite agree that that could not bring about anti-Semitism, but I will give him a direct instance from my own constituency which does tend to bring about anti-Semitism. In an agricultural county like Shropshire there are very few Jews, but there is one hostel for Jews who have come here as refugees. They were asked to do agricultural work. I have sent full particulars of this case to the Minister of Agriculture. The Jews in that hostel had been received handsomely, they have been fed and housed and clothed, but they refused to milk cows after 4 o'clock on Friday. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is their Sabbath."] Yes, but let me finish. Agricultural labourers who had been 1191 working hard had to go in and do their work.
§ Mr. Colegate
This case has caused a great deal of prejudice. I have tried to help to get the matter cleared up, because I do not want anti-Semitism to be created. It is a small point, but it is not merely a question of 2 ozs. of food per head of the population. There is a difference of custom, but it is a very awkward difference, and friends of the Jews should exercise great care to try to prevent such things happening. The farmer himself is naturally very indignant about it.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. I thought that we were getting rather wide of the subject, and now we are getting on to Scotsmen as well. The hon. Member should be allowed to finish his speech. There are others who want to speak.
§ Mr. Colegate
I think it is up to the friends of refugees to see that incidents of this kind are smoothed out, because such cases create prejudice. The Government have given ample pledges of their sincerity in this matter, and I do not think it is wise to question them. People who carry the matter too far do harm in another direction. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) talked about another 300,000 Jews going to Palestine. That would be a gross violation of the pledges of this country and would mean grave injury to a very friendly race who have provided considerable support in this war. It does harm to the cause of this country if suggestions of that kind are put forward without regard to the sentiments of the Arabs whose land and houses would have to be taken. That cannot possibly help the cause of the Jews or of any refugees. Therefore I think that the Under-Secretary, as far as he could tell us, provided a basis of the utmost that we can do in the present circumstance to help to remedy this dis- 1192 tressing problem. More cannot be hoped for. It must be worked with good will, and that I do not believe anyone in the Committee seriously doubts is present.
§ Mr. Lipson
(Cheltenham): May I say very briefly in reply to my hon. Friend that we have all at times suffered from our friends, and every cause has suffered from some of its advocates? I am quite sure that the Government are far too generous in judging a problem of this magnitude and importance, and a tragedy of this kind, to be influenced by minor considerations. What is true of the Government is true of the people of this country. My knowledge tells me that. Representations have been made to me from my constituency, all from non-Jews, urging me to impress on the Government the need for action in this matter, and I may say I appreciate those representations all the more because those who have made them know, as I am a Jew, where my sympathies are. The fact that they have felt impelled to urge me, to prod me, to go further in this matter, shows how very strongly they feel. Quite frankly, their conscience has been roused, their sense of common humanity; in spite of personal losses and the tragedy of this war, they feel that this tragedy of the victims of Nazi persecution is something which is even bigger than all these other matters.
May I make this perfectly clear? No Jew asks for special treatment for Jews. They recognise that this is a problem which applies to all the victims. They are perfectly aware that the Jews have been singled out for particularly cruel and vindictive treatment. So far as rescue is concerned, they do not say: "Take the Jew and leave the non-Jew" or "Give preference to the Jew." Secondly, they agree with everybody who says that the main thing is to win the war first, and they do not ask for a single measure to be taken which is likely in any way to interfere with the war effort. They are grateful—and I think would be more grateful if they had all the information which has been given to us to-day by the Under-Secretary as to what has been done even in the last five months—for everything which this great country has done to help the victims of Nazi aggression. What they say, and I think they are right in saying, is that we should not emphasise only what we have done, 1193 though credit must be given for that, but we must ask ourselves: "Have we done all that we can?" Perhaps I might remind the Committee, since it has been mentioned, of the Parable of the Priest and the Levite. Though they may have been good men in their private lives—they may have had much to their credit —all that history has had to say of them, and will have to say of them, is that on one occasion they passed by on the other side. Therefore I would appeal to the Government to do everything they possibly can. We do not ask the impossible. We know the limits within which relief can be given, but we do urge, with all the force at our command, Within those limits do all you possibly can; because there are only a few that can be saved do not say: "We will not save them."
§ Mr. Silverman
(Nelson and Colne): I do not share the view expressed by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Cole-gate) that moral forces are impotent. I think that the history of this war has shown that they are not—
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry I have not time to give way. [Interruption.] I am not intentionally misrepresenting the hon. Member. If I do misrepresent him, I will apologise to him afterwards. I think that those who heard him when he spoke will share my view of what he said. I say that the whole history of the war shows that moral forces are by no means impotent, and that the translation of our weakness materially at the beginning of the war, and later into our present growing might, and the prospect of certain victory growing nearer day by day, arise directly out of the fact that we are right and the Axis wrong. I wish to made just a passing reference to matter. I am not a religious man. I am a Jew; I do not keep the Sabbath myself. I have not kept it for many years, and I doubt whether I ever shall again. Would not the hon. Member, whose sympathy is beyond dispute, and whose imagination is vivid when he chooses to exercise it, try and think what the keeping of the Sabbath means to those refugees? They have given a good deal for their religion, they, their fathers and their grandfathers, generation after generation, for thousands of years. If they are a little fanatical, will he not forgive it to them, and will he 1194 not himself be their spokesman and interpreter in the area where he has such influence?
I do not want the Debate to devote much of its time, and I am glad it has not done so, to the nagging sort of spirit in which some of these discussions are sometimes conducted. I hope it is not out of Order to say that the whole nation is rejoicing now in victory, the very first victory which has cleared a Continent of the Axis forces. We are going to return thanks for it. It is not unfitting that this Debate should take place on that day. Would it not have been a very fine gesture if the Government had felt themselves able to say that the very first land that had been freed of the Nazi terror, of the Nazi scourge, should become the first land to offer temporary sanctuary to the first victims of that tyranny? There are a great many things about which we are in complete agreement. It has been said that the quickest and surest way of rendering help is to win the war. I know nobody who would save a single life by methods that prolonged the war for a single minute. I would go further than has been gone so far. I would say that these hundreds of thousands—millions—of threatened victims all over Europe would gladly offer themselves as a willing sacrifice if the shedding of their blood and the sacrifice of their lives ensure that now, at last, an end should be made of all those evils and oppressions out of which their misery grew.
No one wants the Government, no one wants any Government, to take a single step which will impede them in their task or postpone the victory which alone can bring salvation to the victims, Jew and Gentile alike. But short of that there is a widespread feeling in this country and all over the world that without in any way weakening our war effort, although large-scale rescue may be beyond our power, although any attempt at large-scale rescue might only cause in the end greater misery than it saved by prolonging the war, still tens of thousands could be given temporary sanctuary now if only the Government were not over-dominated in their minds by the admittedly immense difficulties that stand in their way. What are-the things that we would have liked to see them do that they have not done? I will try to summarise them in the few minutes that I have. The whole task of 1195 statesmanship is to find out how moral forces may be translated into constructive measures. I should have thought that the very first thing the Government would do would be to try and organise some international concerted action, to see who could be saved without danger to our major purpose. It is true that there has been the Bermuda Conference between this country and one other country. They discussed what they could do themselves. They have pooled in a way their own resources. But ought there not to have been—ought there still not to be, belatedly, a conference of all the Powers which are interested? There are many other nations who have a part to play. The right hon. Gentleman said something about an inter-Government committee. We would like to know, inter-what Governments? The two Governments represented at the Bermuda Conference, or others as well? It is left in doubt. If that committee is intended to be representative of a great number of nations, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will clear up what ambiguity there may be?
I hope I shall not be accused of being a mischievous advocate for my cause if I refer again to Palestine. When it is said that this country has done a great deal, I know no one who would deny it. When it is complained that nothing that the Government have done has saved any lives since 17th December last which would not otherwise have been saved, I think it is an unfair statement. But in the case of Palestine, it is literally true, because it was made perfectly clear that the action which the Colonial Secretary announced that Palestine would take goes only to the limit of the White Paper of 1938. The Government are asked, "You take into Palestine, as a result of all the new circumstances, as a result of the efforts you have made, as a result of the declarations to which you have committed yourselves, how many?" The Colonial Secretary tells us, "Just as many as we would have taken had there been no war, no Nazi attack on the Jews, no mass extermination of the people threatened, no declaration of 17th December, no Bermuda Conference—just as many as we would have taken if nobody had thought of anything at all." It is literally true that Palestine, the guaranteed homeland of the Jew, makes no contribution 1196 at all. That cannot be right. It is very doubtful—I say "doubtful" because I do not want to overstate my case, but I think it is quite certain myself—whether the White Paper of 1938 was not, itself, a breach of the Mandate with which His Majesty's Government was entrusted. The present Prime Minister said so at the time, and he has said nothing since to indicate that he does not think so still. To limit the emigration then was a serious blow to the Government's obligations, but to say that, in these circumstances, we still allow people to go into Palestine only up to that number, is to demonstrate that the charge of doing nothing at all is literally true so far as Palestine is concerned.
Even the promise that was given has not been kept. Even those who were to go in have not been taken. It is said that that is due to matters over which the Government have no control; but four or five ships of 3,000 or 4,000 tons each would take the whole of that number in a month from where they are to Palestine. There are other things that I would like to say, but I know that the Committee has other things to do. I will only say that everybody appreciates the difficulties by which the Government are confronted. The day will come—it may come soon—when the great dams that the Nazis and the Fascists have built around their countries to keep the cleansing waters of civilisation out will be burst, and the great tide of human civilisation will flow again into those waste and arid, tyrannised places, where murder and oppression have done their worst for so many years. Shall we, when the day of triumph comes, be easy in our hearts, our minds, and our consciences if we see the dead bodies of thousands of people—a small proportion of the whole maybe, but still thousands of human lives—whom we could have saved, but whom we were not sufficiently strong, or courageous, or determined to rescue?
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I have felt as I listened to this Debate that all hon. Members of this Committee were keenly conscious of the difficulties of the discussion, of the limitations that were placed on what they wanted to say by considerations which were present in their minds. There was something to be said for the 1197 point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), that we might have done better to have had this discussion in secret. I had thought of that—in point of fact, we discussed it at the Cabinet, but we came to the conclusion that, although there were many advantages from the point of view of the House in telling lion. Members what we could in secret; they were outweighed by the advantages to the public of telling them what we could publicly. I think we were right. I would like to preface my remarks by thanking every hon. Member who has spoken for the care with which he has avoided the pitfalls that lay before him. We hope that we shall have contributed some good by this discussion; I am pretty confident that we have not done any harm—which, in discussing this subject, is quite a considerable achievement.
I think it is quite right and proper that hon. Members in this House and people in this country should feel strongly about this subject. There would be something wrong with the British character if we ceased to feel strongly about this kind of thing. It has been in our tradition, I think, to practice racial and religious tolerance. One of the things we are fighting this war about is to create conditions in this world where a man is free to speak, free to think, free to practice worship as he would. I should feel myself that this House had fallen on evil days if hon. Members did not speak their mind on these subjects, however strongly they felt and even if in the course of them a certain amount of blame fell upon His Majesty's Government. On that score I think we can have no complaint at all. I think we are also agreed that the only real solution for this problem that can be found is a solution of final and complete Allied victory, and clearly none other. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Professor Hill) just now, and I do not think I was in disagreement, as far as I could judge, with anything he said, not even with his description of the Government, but I would like to give just one example of the problem as, in fact, it presents itself.
I do not think hon. Members are quite fair when one or two of them suggest that the Government themselves are too preoccupied to do anything about this prob- 1198 lem. That really is not true. We have, as a matter of fact, a Cabinet Committee which has been dealing with this matter for some time past which includes three members of the War Cabinet. We have done what we can to tackle this problem. We have devoted a considerable time to it. I have at the Foreign Office a most expert staff of really devoted people who do nothing else but try to assist this problem through our diplomatic and consular representatives abroad. If the problem has not been satisfactorily resolved, it is not because not enough time has been devoted to it or not enough time given to it by the Cabinet Committee. I can assure the Committee that it is much more difficult even than that.
I want to take the example that the hon. Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. Silverman) has just given in his speech. He took the example of what has just recently happened in Palestine, and I think it is a fair example to take. Let me tell him that we have in this House divergent views about the White Paper, and we could have a very interesting discussion on that subject all over again, like we did a few years ago, but that has nothing at all to do with the problem now. There is nothing in the White Paper to prevent the vacancies which are at present available being filled. The hon. Gentleman said rightly that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Colonial Secretary announced some time ago, actually on 3rd February, that there were these 30,000 vacancies available in Palestine. The hon. Member says, Why limit them to 30,000? I would be quite willing and eager to discuss that if there was the slightest prospect of the 30,000 vacancies being filled. What happened is that we got into negotiation through the neutral Power, which is the only way we can do it. I cannot think, if I were prepared to have direct negotiations with the enemies, which is a fruitless affair, it could be done, as I remember many years ago. The only way to do it is through the neutral Power. We tried that, and we reached what in fact was an agreement with one of the belligerants that they would let a number of children go, and though transport arrangements were difficult, they were not the overwhelming difficulty or the difficulty that stopped it. The difficulty was that the country which made that agreement appears to have had second thoughts, and 1199 having first of all said "Yes" and accepted somebody to go there and make the necessary arrangements, are now saying, if not "No," something which is nearer "No" than "Yes." That is a deplorable state of affairs, and it is not a state of affairs that I or His Majesty's Government or any of us can control.
§ Mr. Eden
Not that I am aware of, in order to be taken to Palestine. A certain number of Poles have lately been moved from Persia to Palestine, but as far as I know there are no Allied countries to which to move them. I merely give that example to show the Committee the actual position. We have 30,000 vacancies in Palestine. We want to get the children there, and despite the transport difficulty we would like to make special efforts to do so, but we cannot get them out without Sofia and Berlin. That is the blunt fact. I have no control over either Sofia or Berlin.
Let me come to another point which has been raised. I want to mention the position of the Poles, to show that we can say positively that action has been taken, however great the difficulties of transport and the limitation of shipping. About 40,000 Poles have been moved to Persia. They were brought from Russia to Persia. Every ounce of food they consume has to be imported by us. We have to supply the shipping and supply the food, and it is the focus of our war effort, but it has been done, as a contribution to our Polish Allies in the war. It is true to say that great as the difficulties are, we would not allow this to stop us or any other cause, but there are many cases where it is the action of the enemy Power that stops our effort. So I think I might say to the hon. Lady that she was not quite fair when she said earlier in the Debate that the Government had tried to buy off criticism by a few concessions now and again. That is really not our position. It would be easy for me to get some quite good cheers even from the hon. Lady if I could recount exactly what had been done by us in certain neutral countries.
I never really doubted the right hon. Gentleman's good will. But I do rather doubt the good will of some of his colleagues. What has worried us 1200 all along is the lack of the sense of urgency. We do believe that in the Palestine case something might have been done.
§ Mr. Eden
I am sure the hon. Lady realises that she must not differentiate among the excellencies of the various Ministers. Our decisions are taken together. We are a band of brothers, and there is no distinction. Honestly, I do not know—I should like to be told—whether it is the fact that, if we had acted with more rapidity, we could have got better results. I have had many conversations with the hon. Lady on the subject, and I hope that I shall have many more, but my own conscience does not tell me, "If you had done this more rapidly, you would have got better results." My own conviction is that you will not get any result of any kind out of Germany or of any other satellite country that is really objective, and I do not believe that until the war is over we can deal with more than the fringe, and it is the fringe with which we have to deal.
Let me come to a few of the points. As to visas, I think there is still some misunderstanding on this position. There are no numerical limits on the number of visas a consul can issue, but there is a limitation of certain categories. A consul for some time past has been allowed to issue visas for volunteers who come to join Allied Forces. The only condition of that is that the volunteers are to be approved by representatives of their own Government. That is natural and indeed almost an obvious precaution, but subject to that there is no other limitation.
I would like to say a word more about the three categories referred to by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to-day, because they are important. The parents of those persons serving in His Majesty's or Allied Forces or the Mercantile Marine will be allowed to come here. That means that visas will be available for these persons for them to come. In the second place, visas are available for persons other than Allied nationals willing to join His Majesty's Forces, and in the third place, parents of children under 16 who are already here. There are wider categories in respect of which there must be reference home. There again the Committee will understand that that is an elementary precaution in view of the risks we run in taking some of these people from enemy territory. 1201 The difference in the situation is that whereas heretofore any national of an Allied country coming to join our Forces could come now, under the new regulation any national of an enemy country, or a Stateless person, will be able to come and join the Allied Forces as well. Some hon. Members feel that nothing has been done and that nobody has been allowed to come here, but the figure which my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave early in the Debate, showing that 4,000 people have arrived during the last five months, does show that there is, in fact, a continuous flow. We have not advertised that flow, and it is much wiser not to do so, if I may be allowed to make that observation.
I would like to say a few words about the Bermuda Conference. Unfortunately, it is true that all the recommendations of the Conference cannot be made public now. The two Delegations agreed—and I think rightly—among themselves as to how much they would make public at this time, and they agreed that certain recommendations must remain confidential for the time being. Having seen those recommendations, I think that is a wise precaution. The War Cabinet have approved that report, the recommendations and the steps to be taken to put them into force. Let me say what I can about the recommendations which have been published. There is, first, the question of the position of neutrals. It is true that some of the smaller neutrals who are neighbours to this Nazi tyranny bear a heavy burden just now and feel that they should have an assurance that when the war is over they will not be left to carry their burden alone. His Majesty's Government are ready to take their part in sharing the burden, and we want that assurance to be given to neutral countries by the United Nations as a whole. At any rate, we are prepared to take our part in giving such an assurance. It is important that the neutral countries themselves should feel rather less anxiety than heretofore. In respect of that report, the question of finance was mentioned. We are prepared to make—and we have been making already—very considerable Government contributions. Again, we have not advertised this, but we have been helping some countries financially with this particular task and the handling of it, and we contemplate that under the scheme we shall continue to do so and 1202 to make contributions with other Governments to the financing of this work.
I would like to say a few words about the Inter-Governmental Committee. We thought that it would be as well if we and the United States talked the matter over between ourselves before approaching other Governments. Complete agreement has been reached in this difficult question, and despite the temptations of one side, as it were, to try and look better before the public than another, there has been nothing of that kind; both Delegations have co-operated with complete loyalty. One of the proposals is the reestablishment of an Inter-Governmental Committee on a wider basis, carrying much greater authority. It is not the fault of the Evian Committee that its terms of reference were limited. In this case it is contemplated that wider powers shall be given. I am satisfied that the machinery which this Inter-Governmental Committee will have to operate is well suited for this purpose. They will have as good a staff as we can provide for them—a staff which will be paid by the Government. That is our intention. We believe that this committee should be on the right basis for the work of the Conference and the refugee problem, not only now but also after the war.
I would like to conclude with this assurance to the Committee. I know some hon. Members think that the Government are perhaps insensitive in this matter. I can assure them that we are not. It is quite possible to be on this bench and to have quite as sensitive and deep a feeling as anybody in any other part of the House. I do not know whether Ministers can contribute to the problem if they wear their hearts on their sleeves for the daws to peck at, but I believe they will do all that is humanly in their power to help the matter forward, short of any major interference with our war effort. That is the policy we are trying to carry out. It is the policy on which the Cabinet Committee are working. I hope the Bermuda Conference will give us the machinery we need. I think it will. Some of the steps we are taking will ease the burden for the neutrals. We shall do what we can, but I should be false to my trust if I raised the hopes of the Committee, because I do not believe that great things can be achieved. I do not believe it is possible to rescue more than a few until final victory is won. The Government will 1203 use their authority and any exertion they possess. They will not be bound by red tape. They want to help these people as much as any hon. Member in this Committee and to do as much as they can within the limits of our war effort and our strength.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, 1204 and ask leave to sit again," [Captain McEwen]—put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the order of the House this day, adjourned the House, without Question put.