§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I have given notice, on behalf of a considerable number of other Members, of all parties, in the House, to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare that we want to take this opportunity of raising what to many of us inside this House and to a great number of people outside is the very vital question of famine relief in Europe during the war in what is known as occupied territory. I can assure my hon. Friend that we approach this matter in a spirit of intense persuasiveness. We understand many of his difficulties and have no wish whatever to ask for the impossible. We want him to listen to what we have to say and to see whether he can do something to meet us in the further relief for which we are asking in certain territories. There is a very strong feeling outside the House, both in this country and elsewhere, that something more should be done than is at present being done by His Majesty's Government. Let me make it plain at once to those hon. Members, particularly as I do not see them here, who are criti- 1224 cising us for wanting apparently to be of assistance to the enemy, that no one wants to do anything which may assist the enemy. We do not believe that the assistance for which we ask, if carried out properly and in a way well known to the Parliamentary Secretary, would be assistance of any kind whatever to the enemy.
In order not to make the scope of the Debate too wide, we want particularly to refer to two aspects; first of all, an increased amount of relief of foodstuffs to Greece and, secondly, to urge His Majesty's Government to consider falling in with the requests, which, I understand, have been made—certainly they are well known—of the Belgian Government, that something should be done in the way of essential medical provisions and vitamins for our Allies the Belgians. And this is limited, as an hon. Friend points out, in the case of Belgium, to nursing mothers and small children. We are asking for controlled relief. As there may be some misapprehension, I will describe what that means. There are two types of controlled relief. There is the kind of controlled relief where there is the existence of neutral means of supervising the distribution of the stuff when it arrives, and the other type, that I call controlled relief, is where the relief supplied is so little and gradual that even if there was abuse you could effect control by turning off supplies from the source from which they come; and if the enemy did use such supplies, further supplies could be stopped.
My mind—to-morrow being 11th November—goes back to that time when we closed down on the last war in 1918. I am reminded, as the House will be, that in that war, as in this, the Greeks and Belgians were our Allies. They still are our Allies, and everybody knows what a gallant fight was put up in Greece, and I believe that history will prove that the Belgians did not do so badly either in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. My mind went back also to the dreadful condition of things found in Europe after the last war. Some people might accuse me of being sentimental. I do not know anything worth living for except some sort of sentiment. I remember the shock it gave me when I saw a starving child. To appreciate what a starving child means you have to pick it up and hold it in the light 1225 and looking through it see nothing but skin and bone. It is a tragic thought that starvation conditions prevail now. And I submit that it will be due, in my view, to the wrongful attitude on the part of His Majesty's Government if the same kind of conditions prevail in some of the territories of our Allies as prevailed in other parts of Europe at the end of the last war.
Our special appeal, as I have said, is to help forward both the Belgians and the Greeks, and while I do not want to go into any great amount of statistical data, I think it is important that the House should realise where the foodstuffs for these territories came from prior to the outbreak of the war. When I speak of foodstuffs I include food for human consumption and feeding stuffs for animals which provide human food within the territory. I believe I am right in saying that prior to the outbreak of the war 70 per cent. of the foodstuffs consumed in Belgium came from outside what we call the blockade and approximately 60 per cent. in the case of Greece. I would ask hon. Members to bear that constantly in mind when listening to the Debate. It is quite a mistake to think that those countries are normally self-providing and that the enemy has gone in and filched all the foodstuffs and has left them starving. Without supplies from outside they are quite incapable of maintaining, themselves, even if the enemy did not take away an ounce of foodstuffs.
May I deal with one or two of the arguments which are normally raised against famine relief of any kind? The first one is, as I have said, that it will help the enemy. Well, we do not want to do anything that will help the enemy. We do not believe that assistance of this kind, properly controlled and limited in its scope, will be of any assistance to the enemy whatever. It will not provide, for Belgium, food for the adult population. The Germans look after that themselves. Where adults are used to further the efforts of the German war machine the Germans see that they are well fed. The people we are seeking to assist are those who are not being helped by the Germans, those we hope to rely on in the future, whatever the date may be. There is the further argument that supplies will be abused. I have yet to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that there has been any authentic case of any serious 1226 abuse or of supplies being taken away. In support of that, I will quote from a report of a State Department of the United States of America of April this year:Information from neutral sources indicates that food relief supplies being sent to Greece are being distributed to the people without interference by the occupation authorities and that there has been no diversion of these supplies to the enemy.It is constantly represented to me by people who study this matter that there has been no serious abuse of any kind whatever. Another point in support of the contention that it will not help the enemy is that, so far as I know, both the Greek and Belgian Governments in this country are not in agreement with the present policy being pursued by His Majesty's Government. Surely their advice ought to receive serious consideration. After all, they are just as anxious as anybody to have the enemy beaten and out of their territory. Neither Government would ask for anything to be done which would prolong their agony and the war. Finally on this point, I would emphasise that as regards medicinal stores, particularly in the case of Belgium, dried milk and vitamin tablets, there is not the slightest case for saying that they would help the enemy or would relieve them of another of their responsibilities.
The next big argument is this: constantly it is stated, and the Parliamentary Secretary has stated in answers to Questions, that it is the responsibility of the Axis to feed the populations of the occupied territories. The hon. Gentleman has quoted to me Clauses 47 to 52 of the Hague Convention, No. IV, of 1907. I am not a lawyer—the hon. Gentleman is—but I made a search through those Clauses, and I cannot find any reference there which will indicate that the occupying Power is responsible for making good the foodstuffs that come from outside the territory. I would like the Attorney-General to come here and, as a lawyer, tell me precisely where it is in the Hague Convention that this responsibility is laid upon the occupying Power. In connection with this point of foodstuffs in and out, the hon. Gentleman, in an answer to a Question on 27th October, told me that imports from Axis sources into Greece and Belgium exceeded the exports of those two countries. So I do not see what there is further to argue about with regard to that form of possible abuse.
1227 Then comes the question of moral obligation I consider that this is a silly argument. We are not fighting the Germans because they are moral but because they are amoral, and to tell me that a moral obligation rests on the Germans to do something cuts no ice whatever, especially as you cannot feed starving children on moral obligations. It is revolting to think that there are millions of nursing mothers and unfed children who, with a small amount of aid from us, would be relieved of much of their agony and suffering. As an ordinary Member, I take the view that it is as much our moral obligation to see that something is done as anybody else's obligation. It is no use saying that just because the Germans do not stand by their moral obligations we shall do nothing about it. The argument produced by Ministers—and I think the Foreign Secretary is among those who have used it—is that you cannot do it for one or two countries without doing it for all the others. I think that is wrong. It is quite absurd to say you will do nothing because you cannot do everything. We quite understand that in the case of Poland and Czechoslovakia it is very difficult to attempt to do anything, and I understand that the Dutch Government have expressed the view that they do not want anything to be done. The two countries we are particularly pleading for to-day are Greece and Belgium, who supported us in the last war and to whom we are looking for support again when we invade Europe. We feel that we should show our humanity, our gratitude for their efforts, and our recognition that their main supplies come from outside during the war in doing something more than the Government have been doing up to the present time.
Another argument used is that domestic produce from the countries concerned might be withdrawn if further supplies are sent in. Has that proved to be the case? In point of fact we have been doing this for Greece, to a considerable extent, for a long time, so the argument that by doing it for one you must do it for all has already broken down in practice. Apart from that, is there any real evidence that domestic produce has been taken away? I would like to quote what the Archbishop of Canterbury said on this point about helping the enemy: 1228I am convinced that the schemes to which I have given my support, and which have been carefully worked out, would not aid the enemy or hinder our war effort.I would like to refer to a point made by the Parliamentary Secretary on 8th July, when we last debated this subject. He said that the supply of some of the foodstuffs would relieve the strain on the enemy's transport system. Is that really a serious thought? Take the case of Belgium. We are asking for only 2,000 tons a month. That means seven 10-ton trucks a day. Does he really say that that will seriously interfere with the enemy's transport system or relieve them of any great burden, more especially as they are not supplying now. As for claiming that we have not the shipping available, the answer to that is that the stuff would be carried in neutral bottoms, provided by Belgium or Greece, as the case may be, and would not interfere with our shipping resources at all. Take the case of Greece itself. At the present time Greece is getting something like 15,000 to 20,000 tons per month. That is splendid. It is much more than went there before we started the agitation about this matter. Both the Swiss-Swedish Commission working in that country and, I understand, the Greek Government have asked for a further 4,000 tons of fresh food a month. If that is so, is there any reason why they should not get it? If it can be proved that food has-been properly distributed and has not helped the enemy, then there is no reason why further supplies should not be made available.
As an argument against doing any more, the Parliamentary Secretary told us that there was a better harvest in Greece this year and that they would not need so much help from outside. That was in answer to a Question on 29th September. My answer to that is that Mr. George Exintaris, who is the ex-Minister of Agriculture in the Greek Government, has said that the harvest this year is bad and that famine conditions will prevail. I will quote his actual words in this extract from the "Manchester Guardian" of 8th October, 1943:Unless what he calls the 'unexpected' happens and Greece is liberated this year Mr. George Exintaris, a former Greek Minister of Agriculture, who escaped from his country in June, is afraid that famine conditions this winter will be as bad as in the black five months at the turn of 1941–42. From January to June, he said, the food situation in Greece 1229 was much better, partly because of the help from Canada and elsewhere and partly because a feeling of confidence swept the country and all the existing reserves were freely used. Since then, however, there has been a quick deterioration. The crop has been bad, there is a deficit of 150,000 tons of wheat and the stock have gone. He wants the shipment to Greece to be increased by 2,000 tons a month of fish and meat products, by 2,000 tons of rice, and by extra milk—that is, if the 'unexpected' does not happen.It would appear, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary is not correctly informed as to the state of crops in that territory. In view of what has been happening in Athens let us consider what a great difference even the small amount of relief they have already had has made to the population. I am told that 500 died of hunger in Athens and Piraeus in the first two weeks of October this year. That is fewer than was the case in the black months of two or three years ago when 1,700 died every day. On 14th October this year the hon. Gentleman told us that no extra request from the Swiss-Swedish Commission had been received. I do not understand that, because I have been given to understand that they have asked for extra supplies over and above the 15,000 to 20,000 tons.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare (Mr. Dingle Foot)
Would the hon. Member give me the date of the answer to the Question he has just mentioned?
§ Mr. Stokes
It was 14th October this year. To turn to Belgium, I have stated that 70 per cent. of her feeding-stuffs come from outside the blockade, and I believe that to be substantially true, but what I think is not generally realised is that we get a very considerable amount of supplies from such places as the Belgian Congo, a fertile country whose supplies are available for the use of the United Nations. Surely that should be borne in mind when we are considering whether we are going to help our colleagues in Belgium or not. At present we are not sending anything at all. Yet we are using the products of the Congo. There is, as in the case of Greece, both shipping and money available.
I join issue with the Noble Lord the senior Minister, who stated on 15th October that the reason the people of Europe are hungry is because the Germans have stolen their food. I agree 1230 that the reason why the people of Europe are hungrier than they need be is that the Germans have taken much of their food, but 70 per cent. of the normal feeding-stuffs which the Belgians consumed came from outside Europe. That is a criticism that we are going to have to face for ever when the war comes to an end, and our Allies may very well curse us for what we have done. In December, 1941, there were 69,000 special food cards issued in Belgium for tubercular cases. Fifteen months later that figure had gone up to 109,000. Forty per cent. of the children in Ghent are suffering from rickets, and 80 per cent. in other parts, largely because they are short of vitamin D. In the ordinary children's homes, where sickening children go to recuperate, the ordinary daily rations have been reduced by as much as 50 per cent. What kind of nation are our friends in Belgium going to be reduced to if this is allowed to continue?
I asked the Minister on 8th July a Question to which I never got a convincing answer. In the early days of 1941 what I referred to loosely as the Hoover scheme was proposed to the Belgian Government, the German Government and ourselves. It was welcomed by the Belgian Government, and the German Government accepted it in principle. It may be that, had we pursued it, we should have come up against all sorts of difficulties and not been able to carry it through. But is it not true that at or about the same time, after His Majesty's Government turned down that proposal, the Belgian Government brought in a scheme of the same nature for the approval of His Majesty's Government which has not been accepted?
There are three other specific questions that I want to ask. First, as the hon. Gentleman hangs so much of the Government case on the responsibility of the occupying Power under the Hague Convention, will he or one of the Law Officers tell us precisely where in the Hague Convention it is stated to be the responsibility of the occupying Power to make good shortages caused by the blockade, as we call it—I agree it is a loose term—shortages due to the fact that feeding stuffs from outside the blockade are no longer possible? The Hague Convention, I do not believe, ever contemplated the state of things that we now see. Secondly, has 1231 any instructed or authoritative opinion ever shown that the 1914–18 Hoover scheme, which was accepted by us for supplying food to the starving peoples of Europe, proved to be a mistake? Has there been any authoritative evidence that substantial supplies were misused and misdirected by the enemy? In the Debate on the 8th, I accepted a statement that there had been abuse, but I am told that I was wrong and that there is no authoritative evidence. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence, I shall be glad to hear it. Thirdly, are the present Greek and Belgian Governments domiciled in this country in agreement with the present policy of the Government or in disagreement? In the case of Greece, would they welcome more relief and do they consider that it could be supplied without helping the enemy, and in the case of Belgium are they definitely pressing for these moderate supplies for which we are now asking? It is interesting to consider what our great Russian Allies think about this matter. Here is a quotation from a note handed to the British Ambassador in Moscow on 25th October, 1939:It is known that the universally recognised principles of international law do not permit the air bombardment of the peaceful population, women, children and aged people. On the same grounds the Soviet Government deem it not permissible to deprive the peaceful population of foodstuffs, fuel and clothing and thus subject children, women and aged people and invalids to every hardship and privation by proclaiming the goods of popular consumption as war contraband.I do not believe the Government of the U.S.S.R. have changed their views for a moment. Have they stated that they have?
To follow the policy that we are recommending is obviously good business. When the war comes to an end, unless we now do something about it, surely the only well-fed, fat, sleek people are going to be Germans, and all our friendly populations are going to be down-and-out, and starving, and they will hate us and be quite unable to govern Europe. They may be glad to be liberated from the Nazi yoke, but though unfortunately I am not a parent, I can imagine the awful bitterness which will prevail in the hearts of the parents of children as a result of the restrictions they have been suffering, and in many cases death, for the want of foodstuffs. There is a huge body of opin- 1232 ion in America and here that wants the Government to do something—none of us want to do anything which will help the enemy—to help the children and the nursing mothers in Belgium and give a little further relief to the starving people of Greece, showing that we really are fighting for Christian principles and that we recognise that these people are our Allies and are entitled to some substantial consideration.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson (Leicester, West)
I am glad to have an opportunity to take part in this Debate, since it deals with a subject of very serious importance—one in fact which involves a grave question of national responsibility—and since I think it is right that such matters should be discussed in every part of the House by people who in other ways may not always take the same point of view. I am not a sentimentalist. I do not believe you can defeat panzer divisions by strewing cowslips in their path. I am not a pacifist. I believe the only way we can get total victory is by total war. I do not wish in any way to embarrass the Government, of which I am a most ardent supporter, nor do I in any way wish to criticise the Ministry of Economic Warfare. I believe they have in these difficult years carried out their functions most efficiently. It is not their efficiency I question; it is their state of mind. I have certain apprehensions about that. It is my experience that the young Departments—mushroom, possibly fungoid, Departments—have not possessed the traditions, and therefore the self-confidence, and therefore the flexibility, of the older institutions of State. I fear that the Ministry of Economic Warfare, being a Ministry of denial, may concentrate too closely upon negatives. I would beg the hon. Gentleman to search his conscience and consider whether, in the long years in which his Department have been training for battle and taking part in the muscular contests and wrestling matches in which with so much success they have engaged, it is not possible that the Department may have become a little muscle-bound. I would ask him to consider this matter not with a closed mind but with all the rich resources of liberal humanism.
I was a few days ago in Sweden, and I had occasion to speak to and interview 1233 a great many earnest and intelligent men who since the beginning of the war have devoted their experience and their energies to a study of the nutrition problem in occupied Europe and to the means by which malnutrition could be at least alleviated. I found it difficult to meet the arguments that they put to me. When we are in this House we take a delight—after all, it is our privilege and our pleasure—in criticising the action of Government Departments. When we go abroad we all feel that we must rebut and disprove criticisms of our Government. I know that when I heard these statements in Sweden I felt a rush of loyalty towards the Ministry of Economic Warfare, but I racked my brains to think of the arguments Ministers have in the past given me, hoping that I should find in them some armour-piercing javelins which would confound and utterly rout my Swedish critics. I searched, and what did I find in the palm of my hand? Not a javelin, not even a pointed dart, but just a handful of dust. I had not come to Sweden to throw dust in the face of the Swedish Red Cross.
They said to me, "Do your Government, do the House of Commons, know the conditions in Belgium and Greece? Do they see the vital statistics? Do they know the tuberculosis figures? Have they had the facts about child welfare?" "Yes," I said, "I think they have all the information." Then they said, "Is it that they mistrust the Swedish Red Cross or the Swiss Red Cross? Is it that they have no confidence in the international arrangements that we have made?" "No," I said "the Swedish Red Cross and the Swiss Red Cross are regarded in England with the deepest respect and admiration." Then they said, "Is it that your Government imagine that we are trying to send great fat food ships into Belgium? Is the House of Commons aware of what a tiny little scheme we have? Do they not realise that we can provide the ships and the money and the stuff and that it is only the navicerts that are spoiling what we wish to do?" "Yes," I said, "the House of Commons knows that." Then they said, "What is the reason?" I said, "There may be reasons of which I am unaware," and they replied, "Well, they must be very strange and very recondite reasons since, to us, the attitude of 1234 your Government in this matter is not in harmony with the high repute which Great Britain in these years has won."
What arguments could I bring out, but that wretched little trilogy of arguments which we have had before and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has referred, but which I, if he will allow me, would also examine? There is, first, the absurd argument that we would be helping the enemy. I do not think that anything I have ever done in public or in private life has ever helped any Nazi in any way at all. I am perfectly convinced that in comparison with the great rocks of discomfort, the great precipices of destruction, which we are hurling upon Germany, any benefit they could get from this scheme would be worth no more than perhaps one, or perhaps two, or perhaps three, grains of sand. The thing is too disproportionate to be mentioned. A little drop of benefit might accrue to them, compared with the ocean of relief and encouragement which would thereby be given not merely to our Allies but to unborn generations in Greece and Belgium. No, I could not use to the Swedes the argument that it might help the enemy. It is a grotesque argument.
What about the second argument, that argument which I so regret to say my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has not an escapist mind, used in this House in September last; the argument of the irresolute man, the argument of the thin end of the wedge? Is the fabric of our policy, is the structure of our resolution, made of such friable material that we are afraid of a wedge or two in our system? Are we in this country, we who have withstood the hammer blows of disastrous fortune, to be afraid of a little peg of wood? Surely, as my hon. Friend has said, in the Ministry of Economic Warfare we have an immense and perfectly patterned machine, a "cat and mouse" machine; and surely if a scheme such as we advocate were found to be moving dangerously, it would only be necessary to make a motion of the finger and thumb and the tap would be turned off. So I was ashamed to use to the Swedes the argument about the thin end of the wedge.
Then there is the third argument to which my hon. Friend referred, the argument about the obligation imposed by the Hague Convention on the occupying country. I dare say that my hon. Friend is 1235 right in saying that the Hague Convention of 1907 did not contain a Clause obliging the occupying country to maintain a pre-war level of imports. But it is a generally recognised principle of international law that the occupying country is responsible for maintaining nutrition in the occupied country above starvation level. I hate those words "starvation level." It is a horrible phrase, it is inaccurate, and it is often used carelessly in statistics. What is starvation level for an adult man is something quite different from what is starvation level to a little Greek child on some of these barren islands. Yet there is, it is true, a generally recognised principle of international law such as I have mentioned. But am I to say, am I to believe, that His Majesty's Government base a policy upon the assumption that any international principle will be followed and adhered to by the Nazi Government? This seems to me as grotesque as to say that you could moor a Dreadnought with a cobweb. No, there is no principle, no German principle, in this matter on which we can rely. But there is a German policy. It is a deliberate policy, a policy which was set out as long ago as 1934, a policy which they have effected with the utmost skill, with the most consummate strategy, with incomparable efficiency. It is the policy of so debilitating the populations of occupied countries that they will be unable to resist. It is even more fiendish than that. It is the policy of so debilitating those populations that even the generations yet to be born will be incapable of resisting the future encroachments of the herrenvolk.
I claim that it is the duty and the right and the privilege of this House to urge the Government to defeat that policy. Although we know very well that we cannot do much to defeat that policy, we also know that we can do a little; and I do not think we should be deterred, and I shall certainly not be deterred, from pressing that view in season and out of season whatever the Ministry of Economic Warfare may say. When I asked about this before, I was told that the door was not closed. I wish it were, because then we would break it open. As it is, the door is on the latch and there is a mighty strong chain hidden somewhere in that latch. I could not say these things to the Swedes when they told me that this did not seem to be in 1236 harmony with the high repute which Great Britain had won in all these years. I could not answer them, but I hope that this House will see that what we are asking for is a very little thing. I hope it will not be imagined from what my hon. Friend said about the Hoover scheme in the last war that we are asking for anything like that. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the Hoover Scheme did not help the enemy. It did, and I could show my hon. Friend the passage in Ludendorff's book in which he admits that. I would not dream of anything approaching the extent of the Hoover scheme. I am not thinking of fat food ships being sent to Athens but of giving to Greeks, under a scheme which has worked so well, without any cost to ourselves in shipping or in money, a larger quantity, and a different quality, of the foods which they now require.
We have been told by Mr. Exintaris, recently Greek Minister of Agriculture, exactly what the position is in Greece to-day. We have been told how, after the victory of E1 Alamein, the Greeks imagined that we would be arriving on the morrow. We know that the harvest which promised to be so good has proved defective. We know what the circumstances are to-day and that 400 people are dying in the streets of Athens every week. We know that the suggestions which have been made could rapidly be put into practice. But that is not the only thing. In Greece we have managed to save a good many, thanks to the Swedish Red Cross. But in Belgium we have done nothing at all and the vital statistics in Belgium are perfectly appalling. We know that the Swedes have planned already to send stuff through Lisbon in a sealed train to Belgium, not for the whole population but for the children between six and fourteen which is the critical age. We cannot do anything. Why? Because of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. I do not think this House ought to lie down under that. I do not think the Ministry ought to accept that position. I beg my hon. Friend, in all earnestness, not to continue to adopt the obstinate attitude which he adopted before. If he gives way and accepts our scheme, then surely he will be giving life, and the hope of life, not only to the present population but, as I have said, to the children yet unborn 1237 in those countries—and I am using no rhetorical phrase. If he does not do that, then I say he will be disregarding what I hope is the conscience of this House. He is disregarding what I imagine is the conscience of the United States. He is disregarding what I believe to be the conscience of the people of this country. And he is disregarding what I know to be the conscience of the neutral world.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I wish to support the case which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). It is not often that I find myself in agreement inside this House with my hon. Friend. I am in agreement with him outside on matters of business and of sport, but I think this is the first time I have ever had an opportunity of saying a word in his favour inside the House. But I support the case which he put forward and which, I may say, he put forward so ably and, for him, with so much restraint. Political parties and sections do not enter into a matter of this kind at all. We are striving to put to the Minister a purely humanitarian point of view and I do not wish it to be thought that we are claiming to have any more humanity than Ministers of the Crown possess. I have discussed this with a number of them and have endeavoured to explain to them that we have no more virtue in this respect than they have, that we know they are as much human beings as we are, but that we feel they are being a little too much hidebound by rules and regulations, and a little too frightened to let their hearts have a say as against cold logic. I have never lived by logic. I do not find that it gets me anywhere. I find, in a good many cases, it is better to let that intuition which you can hardly explain take charge of your actions, and, in a good many cases, it is worth more than the cold logic of reason. At any rate, that has been the principle of my life.
I would like to suggest to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, who is not quite so old as I am, that he might step outside his legal training and allow, for a short time, his heart and intuition to carry him along. I have not had the pleasure of discussing this matter with the Swedish Red Cross, but I have had to try and explain the attitude of our Government first of all to some good friends of this 1238 country in America, and I, frankly, found it impossible. Then I have had to try to explain it to my own constituents. I have had interviews with the Ministers, and I have tried to go back and reassure my constituents with what I have been told in answer to their questions, but I found it quite impossible to convince them that those reasons were really sound.
It was agreed to-day that this very small quantity of dried milk and vitamins was available to be sent for the use of the Belgian children. It was agreed that they are available, that the shipping is available, that the people to distribute them are available, and that they will see that they get into the right hands. How can the Government say that this would be helping the Germans and postpone the end of the war? If we thought that, we would not be pressing it. One point I want to make is that there can be no question of opening the door or putting in the wedge, because it is solely for the benefit of nursing mothers and the children on a very limited scale. If the Germans tried to take advantage of this, it would be instantly noticed. If they sent less food to the adults because we tried to help the mothers and children, it would be seen at once. Here is an opportunity where we can, without transgressing the main points suggested by the Foreign Secretary and others, help our friends without hindering the progress of the war. We cannot in any way be accused of arguing against that in making this small gesture, and I can assure the Minister that we shall be doing something that will put heart into the Belgian people. Those who travelled on the Continent just after the last war will remember the children's sufferings. They will remember that we were accused of being responsible for them, and I do hope that the Minister, who I am certain has a heart as large as any of ours, will consider whether, without running any risk whatever, he can fall in with this suggestion to help the peoples of Belgium and Greece.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
The case that has been brought before, the House has been put with such ability and with such moderation by my three hon. Friends who preceded me that I feel there is very little that I need add to the points they have made, except to emphasise again that in 1239 raising this plea once more, as some of us did in July last, we are supported by new facts which the Minister, I am sure, would wish to take into account. One of the new facts is that the harvest in Greece during the last summer has not been, as he expected, a good one, but, unfortunately, a very bad one. Another fact that has been recently revealed is the terrible increase of tuberculosis in Belgium. We had given to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) some figures that have come from the Belgian Government and from Belgian medical experts. We have also a report of the Secretary of State's Department of the United States, issued as recently as May of this year, in which it is stated:We have concluded that at least one-third of the young persons in Belgium are suffering from tuberculosis.Earlier in this Debate we spent several hours in considering the problem of tuberculosis in our own country. What would have been the cry of indignation that would have gone up from both sides of this House, if it had been said that at least one-third of the young people of this country were suffering from tuberculosis? Yet that is said of the children of Belgium in the report of the American State Department. Are we to do nothing to help this tragic situation? The Minister who was seated on that bench an hour or two ago, said, in dealing with the problem of tuberculosis in our country, that it requires a full standard of living to combat the disease. Do my hon. Friends who listened to that Debate see the irony of our saying that of the tuberculosis sufferers in our own country, and, at the same time, refusing, not to give ourselves, but to allow to others the opportunity of giving, for the benefit of the women and children of Belgium.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Does the hon. Member seriously suggest that we in this country are responsible for the condition of people in the occupied countries?
§ Mr. Harvey
My Noble Friend entirely misinterprets what I said. I am asking that navicerts should be permitted to the Belgian Government to purchase food themselves and have it transported in neutral vessels for the young children and nursing mothers only. That is the simple request that is being made. If the Noble 1240 Lord had heard the earlier Debate he would have known that. We are not concerned with feeding the whole population.
§ Earl Winterton
I want to bring out this point. Is it not a fact that the great advance in tuberculosis in Europe is a result of the gross starvation by the Nazis of the millions of people in the occupied countries?
§ Mr. Harvey
The treatment of Europe by the Nazi authorities is very largely responsible. No one in this House doubts that, but the fact remains that, in spite of this, we can if we wish, do something to help a considerable number of this neediest section of our own Allies. We are not asking for the general feeding of the whole population of Europe. We are asking for an exceedingly limited scheme to help the young children and the nursing mothers of Belgium, a scheme to be carried out under the strictest control and under the aegis of the International Red Cross. I think that the position in regard to Belgium is so serious that it does need reconsideration, and I take comfort from the fact that somewhere, if not here, it is being reconsidered.
In a recent issue of "The Times" their Washington correspondent reported an interview with the Acting Secretary of State, Mr. Stettinius. According to this report Mr. Stettinius said that the possibility of an arrangement with the British, Swedish and Swiss Governments to ship goods to countries occupied by the enemy, primarily for hungry children—a question now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—was being studied by the competent Government agencies. That was as recently as 4th of November. I plead with my hon. Friend that he will go on studying the matter until he finds a positive solution. I am sure his heart is with our hearts in this and that he will be only too glad to find a solution. Are we not, in the eyes of the neutral nations, in danger of appearing like the priest and the Levite passing by on the other side, while the wounded traveller lies by the roadside?
I wish my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could have been in his old place below me to-night. What a speech he would have made to urge the case for help to suffering humanity. I think my hon. Friend, with his great ability, could 1241 put the case to-day for the priest and the Levite. He would tell us that the Levite was a man with only a limited amount of money, which he felt he needed for his own family and had he given it to the wounded man, at the next turn of the road there would be another wounded man wanting help and then another and his money would all be gone. The priest looked farther ahead and said, "It is no use doing this. We are very sorry for this wounded man but the real remedy is that we must have strict police action to put down brigandage." That is the kind of defence that I am sure my hon. Friend could make even for the priest and the Levite, but it is not the kind of action which appeals to the ordinary citizen in this country and I am sure it is not, in his own heart, his own attitude.
It is not how the British soldier feels. We saw how in Sicily our soldiers, tired, hungry and weary and having to face the danger of mortal combat, shared their rations with the hungry children, and those the children of an enemy nation. We have been deeply moved recently by the account of how our wounded prisoners, coming back after years of captivity, when they left their port in Sweden have surrendered their packages of food and little comforts for their hungry friends in Occupied Norway. We saw a picture of those food packages and chocolate piled high upon the wharf, to be forwarded by the Swedish Red Cross to help the Norwegians. That was contrary to the views of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. How is it that the Ministry had not a representative there to plead with these soldiers and to say "You cannot do it," The hearts of those men were touched. They represented the true Britain and, surely, we in the House of Commons must be willing to back them up. I know that my hon. Friend is there to represent his Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Warfare. I used to think that the economic man was a miserable figment of the economists, a horrible bloodless creature without a heart and without imagination. I believe that in the Ministry of Economic Warfare the economic man exists. I beg my hon. Friend to stand up against him in the name of all that has made this country great, in the name of our common humanity and in the name of that Christianity which we profess with our lips, but too often dishonour in our lives.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The House has, I am sure, been deeply moved, as it always is, by the passionate sincerity in any humane cause of my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey). I do not think, however, that he was quite right when he sought to draw a distinction between what the Parliamentary Secretary would be saying if he were on the back bench and what he is going to say, no doubt, as representing his Department. It is not pleasant for anyone to ask the Government to refuse to respond to the appeal that has been made, and yet it is because I am deeply convinced that the blockade, and the blockade maintained in its full rigour, is essential for bringing the war to an end at the earliest possible moment that I appeal to my hon. Friend to stand absolutely firm.
When in his speech my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) criticised the Ministry of Economic Warfare as a new and upstart Ministry, I could not help recalling the melancholy record of the Foreign Office during those early years of the last war when my hon. Friend was an official of the Foreign Office. All that has been published in the succeeding years has shown us how greatly Germany benefited from large importations through neutral countries. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester has once more been hobnobbing with a neutral country which is one of the few which are not victims of the enemy occupation. I do hope that it will not have escaped the notice of the House that my hon. Friend referred to the large scale and deliberate policy of starvation which has been embarked upon by the Germans in this war. How he can say that this general policy of starving the whole of Europe has been started by the Germans and remorselessly carried through, and at the same time propose any considerable relief or benefit to all those millions of children in occupied Europe by the importation of a few hundreds of tons of powdered milk, I confess I am entirely at a loss to understand. If once the principle were established for some particular favoured part of occupied Europe that the rigour of the British blockade was to be departed from, then the whole logic and consistency of our position would have been abandoned, and the door would be open to unlimited claims from all the countries which are suffering in the same way. I therefore 1243 hope that my hon. Friend, whose position in this matter has always been so firm, will stand firmly to his guns now.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
I have listened with considerable emotion to the speeches that have been made. We had what I regard as a characteristically brave utterance from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and a very noble utterance from my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson). I want to concentrate on three points. First, it is argued against us that it is necessary, for the winning of the war, that this blockade should be maintained in its entirety. I regard that as utter and complete nonsense. Does the Minister think that his blockade is any substitute for what the Russians are doing on the Eastern front? Does he believe that it is any substitute for what we hope will be done on the Western front at an early date? Germany is not going to be defeated by starving the children of our Allies. Germany is going to be defeated by massive hammer blows from left and right.
In that set-up, it is argued that we must maintain the blockade to the point where we produce—"we" produce, just note that—in co-operation with our German allies—for, believe me, the Minister is an ally of Germany in this matter—[An HON. MEMBER: "Monstrous."] I am entitled to say that, and I shall hope to show, within the limits of my argument, that I think the Minister is a long-term ally of Germany for reasons I shall give—a situation in the Allied countries of which we ought to be ashamed, and which we should put right at the earliest possible moment. I am charged with making a monstrous statement when I say that the Minister, for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect, is a longterm ally of Germany. That seems an extreme statement. Let me analyse it.
What differentiates the German method of making war from the older method of making war? In the old days, armies fought against armies. To-day, armies fight against civilians and armies alike. There was a great deal of force in the speech recently made by the Minister of Labour, when he talked about the outcome not of this war, but of the next one, and when he pointed out that the whole strategy of Germany was devised 1244 either for victory now, or the certainty of victory next time, by so defeating, not merely the military, but the civilian strength, that what they cannot do today, they might hope to do some years hence. That is the whole explanation of the policy of starving the occupied countries, of deporting their men, and mobilising their women, and of lowering the standard of life. That is part of a considered German plan, not only for this war but for 20 years hence. The Parliamentary Secretary, with the best intentions in the world, does not realise that he is acting as an ally in that German policy, and that is what I meant by what I said a few moments ago.
The third point is that I wonder whether this House begins to realise the kind of conditions that are going to exist in Europe when the war is over. I remarked in a speech during a Debate recently, that the impact of the war upon this country has been four or five times what it was last time, and that the problems of peace will become correspondingly more difficult. If that is true of this country it is infinite more true of Europe. I sometimes wonder what those countries think. They must sometimes say to themselves, "We do not know who hurts us more, our friends or our enemies."
We are accomplices in this act of starving Europe, and we are left to-day with no excuse for what we do, because the food is there, the shipping is there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] Must I refer the hon. Member to the joint statement by the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt? We are told that the shipping position is easier, and the food position certainly is. I would welcome a 20 or 30 per cent. cut in our own standard of life in Great Britain if, as a result of it, we could save some hundreds of thousands of Belgian, French, and other children. I promised to sit down in five minutes, and I shall do so, but I beg the Minister not to give us a narrow departmental view on this. I beg him to think of the blockade weapon as only one among many. I ask him to believe that the nearer we get to the end of the war the less important is the blockade weapon. I beg him to have an eye to the future, because, believe me, if Europe is to be rebuilt on a basis that will endure, one of the first things we have to inject into Europe is the spirit of humanity and common goodness, the lack 1245 of which is our chief charge against the enemy whom we are now fighting. The hon. Gentleman had a noble father, who sat in this House, and who is still alive. He was a great man, and there are elements of greatness in the hon. Member. I ask him to let these elements express themselves, and not constrict them within the narrow limits of a departmental policy which makes half Europe ashamed of us, and half of us ashamed of ourselves.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare (Mr. Dingle Foot)
I should like as shortly as possible to answer at any rate the main points which have been made in this Debate and also some of the appeals that have been made. There was the appeal that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) when he drew a moving analogy with the priest and the Levite. I wish he had carried his analogy a little further and told us what the Good Samaritan would have done in similar circumstances. One wonders whether even the Good Samaritan would have been quite so ready to pay out his twopence for the maintenance of the victim if he had known that a penny or three-halfpence was to be paid directly for the benefit of the thieves. I make no complaint at all that this matter should be raised again after a comparatively short interval, but I must remind the House that this issue was fully debated on 8th July, and on that occasion I explained, I am afraid at considerable length, the reasons for the Government's policy, and I must make it quite clear that nothing has happened to cause the Government to change the view which I then expressed.
I fully understand, of course, the anxiety which many people both inside and outside this House feel when they contemplate conditions in the occupied countries under German rule. I have no doubt—I am not speaking about hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate—that most of those who conduct the agitation outside for relaxing the blockade do so for the most worthy humanitarian reasons. But that does not alter the fact that the propaganda which is so freely disseminated on this subject through the country conveys a wholly distorted picture of what the conditions are, No one denies for a single moment the fact that there are great hardships in the occupied countries. 1246 It is perfectly true that in the urban districts there are very distinct shortages, particularly of meat and of fats. But the impression which is so sedulously created that practically the whole of occupied Europe is in a condition of famine at this moment is entirely misleading. The explanation why it is not so is, of course, perfectly simple, It is that as a general rule it does not suit the Germans to create starvation in countries which they have to garrison and from which they want production and labour.
We have had a number of references particularly to one or two countries. It did strike me as a little odd that not a single speaker so far has given us a single figure as to what the actual rations are. Let me take the present case in Belgium. That has been the country most frequently referred to. The actual rations of the normal consumer in Belgium, that is to say, the lowest category of consumer—as the House knows, there are supplementary rations for heavy workers and miners and other particular classes at the present time, and these rations are now generally available—the weekly rations for a normal consumer in Belgium include 62 ounces of bread, five ounces of meat, three and a half ounces of fats and over 100 ounces of potatoes. There are higher rations for other classes of consumers, and children under three and nursing and expectant mothers receive nine pints of milk a week. That also is generally available. I am not suggesting for one moment.—
§ Mr. Foot
As I was about to say, there are shortages for children of school age and the milk rations are not always available for them. These figures however do not represent a starvation diet, and there is certainly no comparison between the standard they represent and the state of affairs which prevailed in Greece when the present relief scheme was first instituted there.
The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) referred to the vital statistics in Belgium. I was a little puzzled why he did not quote them, because statistics, particularly of infantile mortality, have been given in the House on more than one occasion. Let me take 1247 the number of deaths in Belgium for the last four years. In 1939 they numbered 110,000, in 1940, 125,000—I am giving the round figures—in 1941, 120,000, and in 1942, 121,000. I do not say that the years 1939 and 1942 are exactly comparable, because of course there were considerable changes in the size of the population. All I am saying is that these figures convey an impression which is considerably different from that which is frequently given in this country about conditions in occupied territories.
§ Mr. Foot
I have only a few moments in which to reply, but, as I said, there has been a fall in the population, and therefore I am not trying to make an exact comparison. I give these figures, not because I want for one moment to minimise the hardships being suffered in occupied territories, but to show how misleading are many statements which are now being widely made on the conditions in occupied Europe. I am bound to say that I cannot see what useful purpose is being served by this constant presentation of a wholly distorted picture.
I come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), and perhaps I might take his points in historical order. He started off by referring to the Hoover scheme in the last war. I am not going to dwell on that for more than a moment, because, as the hon. Member for West Leicester said, it is not generally proposed that we should repeat that experiment. But at any rate it gives us some guidance to-day because it was suggested, I think by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) that if anything ever went wrong with the relief scheme we would at once know and we could stop the relief. That was not the experience of the last war. When the United States came into the last war and the Hoover Committee had to retire from Belgium and Northern France they had to hand over their work to a Dutch-Spanish Committee. That Committee found very considerable evasion of the conditions of the scheme which had been going on during the time the Hoover Commission was there, entirely undetected by that Commission.
§ Mr. Foot
I am perfectly willing at any time to give the facts on that, either in answer to a question or in any other way. I have myself studied the records of that scheme, which were kindly made available to me by the Foreign Office. I do not think anybody who studies them and sees how the scheme worked from day to day can have the slightest doubt that it was of the greatest assistance to the Germans, enabling them to lay their hands on far larger quantities of native produce than they could otherwise have obtained, and that it relieved them of the obligation they have had to discharge in this war to make available cereals and other foodstuffs from their own supplies.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. Gentleman intending to convey the impression that I was advocating the introduction of the Hoover scheme? I never said anything of the sort.
§ Mr. Foot
As my hon. Friend referred to the scheme in the last war, it seemed to me that there was some guidance to be drawn from the experience of that scheme, which is almost the only complete experience on which we are able to draw. On this occasion we refused to relieve the Germans of their obligations, whether legal or moral. The enemy has had to send in hundreds of thousand tons of grain from his own stocks. If we had repeated the experience of the last war, can anyone seriously doubt that that grain would now be forming part of the German reserves? My hon. Friend asked about the Hoover scheme in this war. I do not want to dwell on that matter. It is true that a representative of Mr. Hoover's organisation went to Berlin in February, 1941, and put a relief scheme before the German Government. It has been suggested that, in substance at any rate, the German Government accepted that scheme. I must make it clear that our attitude would not have been altered whatever the German Government's reply might have been, but I ask hon. Members to read very carefully the document, which I quoted in full in the last Debate, which was handed by tit:, German Government to the League of Red Cross Societies. It will be seen that the German reply fell very far short of a complete or unequivocal acceptance.
My hon. Friend went on to refer to the views on blockade and the position of food in the contraband list expressed by 1249 the Soviet Government at the beginning of this war, and asked whether we had any reason to suppose that their views had changed. As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) a few days ago, we have not received any further communication on this subject from the Soviet Government since Soviet Russia became a belligerent. But it has been our experience, both in the last war and in this, that when a country ceases to be a neutral and becomes a belligerent its views on these matters undergoes some sensible modification. I have not the time to deal with all these complicated issues, but if hon. Members wish to see a complete answer put forward on the question of food and the contraband list they will see it admirably set out in a pamphlet, "Blockade and the Civil Population," by Sir William Beveridge, a document which I think deserves as close a study as Sir William Beveridge's other publications. I pass over some of the other points raised. My hon. Friend referred to the legal position. I can only refer him to a reply which I gave in the House a few days ago.
§ Mr. Stokes
That does not answer the question at all. I am asking whether, under the Hague Convention of 1907, there is an obligation on the occupying Power to make good shortages which come from outside the blockaded area? Where in the Convention is that to be found?
§ Mr. Foot
It is clear from the answer I gave that we are not basing ourselves wholly in this matter on the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention carries with it a negative obligation, that the occupying troops shall not loot available supplies and that in any requisitions they make they shall have regard to the needs of the native population. Both obligations have been wholly ignored by the German occupying authorities and by the occupying forces. The German occupation has gone very much farther than a mere military occupation. It has involved in every case the most complete and detailed control over the national life of each country concerned, In each case the Germans have harnessed the factories, the mines, the transport and the man-power to the German war machine. It follows that they should be prepared to assume corresponding obligations for the maintenance of the people whom they are using in their 1250 war effort. I pass to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester. He told us that it was the German policy to impose malnutrition in nearly every occupied country, and he urged us to take steps to defeat that policy. Frankly, I was surprised to hear an argument of that kind coming from my hon. Friend. It must be apparent that nothing can go into any occupied country except with the permission of the German Government. Is it really conceivable that the German Government would allow supplies of food to pass through the blockade and reach those people if it were clear that the effect would be to defeat their own deliberate policy?
I come to the Greek scheme. As the House knows, we have the advantage of a Swedish-Swiss Commission in Athens. We have met most of the requests which have been made to us by that Commission. There have been one or two requests which it has not been possible to meet, for supply reasons. When the ships were sailing the particular commodities were not available. All I can say is that we have had the advantage of meeting Mr. Exintaris, and also of having in London recently Mr. Mohn, one of the Swedish representatives on the Commission. My Noble Friend and I have discussed with both the present conditions in Greece. It may be possible—I will not put it higher, because I do not want to create disappointment—to meet some of the requests. The neutral Commission has done most admirable work, and, as has been stated on more than one occasion, the imported foodstuffs have, as far as we know, been distributed by the Commission without interference from the occupying authorities. But, although my statements to that effect have been frequently quoted in public speeches and in the Press, not very much emphasis is generally laid on the other statements that I have generally made at the same time in this House, that we are not satisfied with the working of the safeguards for Greek domestic produce. I gave this answer only the other day to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon:In the late summer of this year Greek crops were requisitioned or destroyed in certain areas, allegedly as a reprisal for guerilla activities. The authorities in charge of the relief scheme who protested against these proceedings were informed that steps would be taken to avoid such incidents being repeated. 1251 I must, however, make it clear that any repetition would be regarded by His Majesty's Government as being in effect a breach of the conditions of the scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1943; cols. 40–1, Vol. 393.]The House knows that we did make this special exception in the case of Greece, but no one should believe on that account that the enemy derives no advantage from the scheme. He most certainly does. Atter the defeat of Rommel the German attitude towards Greece, at any rate in economic matters, tended to undergo a change. Greece became once more a possible theatre of military operations, with the result that, much more than before, the enemy found need for Greek labour. To some extent that labour was available to him because of the food that we had allowed to pass through the blockade. I do not for one moment regret that we did it, but it is an illustration of what I am certain is true in all these ratters, that, if you relax the blockade, you are bound to bring some degree of benefit, direct or indirect, to the enemy. There is no such thing in these matters, certainly where you have an army of occupation, as a completely watertight scheme and the question that has to be decided in each case is whether the possible advantage to our friends outweighs the certain advantage to the enemy. In the case of Greece, and Greece alone, we decided that it did.
I come to the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown). He raised the general issue as to the place of the blockade in our present strategy. He asked whether I regard it in any way as a substitute for military operations on the Eastern front or for possible operations in the West. I do not suggest, and no one connected with my Department ever has suggested, that the blockade is a substitute for defeating the enemy in the field. What we say—and we are reinforced by the experience of the last war—is that it is an essential part of total war. If you had had an unblockaded Germany, able to import freely from overseas, then it would have been a Germany which would have been much more formidable in the military sense. It is true that the German food situation is better than it was in 1918; it is a good deal worse than ours, but it is still better than it was in 1918. It is relevant to this subject to consider just how that has been 1252 achieved. It has been achieved because the German Government, in Germany alone, have placed 1,000,000 extra workers on the land since 1939. That is one of the main reasons for the present man-power crisis in Germany. Those 1,000,000 workers are in effect manning Germany's economic defences, and in this war, you can reduce almost every modern problem into terms of man-power. In this matter it is not possible for us to draw a valid distinction between Germany and the occupied territories. The political differences remain, but in the economic sense the occupied territories are all part of German Europe and are contributing in precisely the same way to the German war effort. In this country we have had one piece of singular good fortune. We receive lend-lease supplies for which we do not need to send exports in exchange. If we had to produce those supplies from our own resources or our own soil, or if we had to manufacture goods to send in exchange, then our own war effort would be considerably less than it is at the present time. If you are going to let in, in substantial quantities, all relief foodstuffs, to German-occupied Europe at this time it is going to be a form of lend-lease to the enemy.
Already we have to face very great commitments indeed. Not only have we to meet the needs of our Russian Allies, and not only have we had to meet the requirements of North Africa—and these have been considerable—but there are likely to be very considerable needs in any area which is liberated from German domination. We may be faced in many cases with a scorched earth policy, and in such cases the needs of those areas may prove even greater than those of the present occupied territories. We shall have to meet a very large commitment, and I do not think at this moment we can possibly add to it a vast, unspecified commitmént of the type which has been proposed here to-day.
§ Mr. Harvey
We are not asking that we should make any commitment ourselves, but that we should give navicerts to the Belgium Government to bring in a small amount at their own expense and not from our resources.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.1253
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Drewe.]
§ Mr. Foot
All these supplies will have to come from precisely the same sources—the sources which are available to the United Nations. We shall be told that that is not what is contemplated and that all that is wanted is that comparatively small quantities should be allowed to go in. The hon. Member for West Leicester remarked rightly that I represent what is a Ministry of denial. We have had three years' experience in running the blockade, and constantly, in fact almost every day of our lives in relation to food or to some other commodity which it is desired to pass inward or pass outward, we are asked to make a concession on the grounds that the quantity is so small that it could make no real difference to the position of the enemy. We have this from experience, and it was also the experience of the last war, that you cannot admit one claim if you intend to refuse a great many others which are equally valid.
It is suggested that we should make some token shipments to particular areas. Then we should need to adopt a test of special need and to say that the particular token supplies should go to this area or to that area where the need happened to be particularly acute. We would be saying in effect that we would relax the blockade in any case where people were particularly necessitous or particularly hungry. I cannot imagine a greater disservice to the people in German-occupied countries than to adopt, either expressly or by implication, a principle of that kind. It means that we would be providing the enemy with a direct and a very powerful inducement to create extreme shortage over much wider areas. We know from experience that he would not hesitate to do it, and therefore we do not propose to lay ourselves open to this particular form of German blackmail.