HC Deb 08 February 1945 vol 407 cc2224-6
46. Earl Winterton

asked the Prime Minister if he will cause a Command Paper to be published showing, on the information of British representatives, the amount of malnutrition and lack of commodities essential for health in France and the freed portions of Belgium and Italy; how far this is due to allied military requirements of ships and rolling stock; and the steps being taken to relieve the situation.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

The responsibility for the provision of commodities essential to health for liberated territories during the military period is one for the Combined United Kingdom/United States military authorities. In making their preparations, these authorities have, naturally, had to take into account the severe limitations imposed by shipping, port capacity, and internal transportation. These factors have greatly increased the difficulties of dealing with the situation, and it has, therefore, not yet been possible to maintain, or even to reach the full standards aimed at in all cases. But the reports received do not indicate any serious malnutrition, except in certain areas where it existed before liberation. In areas where fighting has recently taken place, it is particularly difficult to restore the disrupted distributive system. The combined military authorities are, however, making special efforts to effect such improvements as are possible in present conditions. At the present time, I do not think there would be any advantage in issuing a White Paper on these matters.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Could not an hon. Member of this House be allowed to go to France to see for himself?

Earl Winterton

In view of the fact that independent evidence completely contradicts what the right hon. Gentleman says, and is to the effect that millions of people are on the verge of starvation and in a worse state than they were under German occupation, how can the right hon. Gentleman refuse to publish information, and is it not the case that members of the Forces would not want to avail themselves of leave trains or N.A.A.F.I. supplies, if they were doing so at the expense of starving French babies?

Mr. Attlee

The question is based on an assumption which is entirely groundless.

Earl Winterton

It is not.

Mr. Attlee

There are no leave trains interfering with the supply of commodities. What I have stated is based on the facts known to us from official reports, that we have received on conditions. I agree that conditions are not as we would wish them to be but there is really no point in making exaggerated statements. If my Noble Friend has any evidence he would like to bring forward, and would submit it to myself or to my right hon. Friend we should be very glad to have it. I am trying to give what we know, and the fullest information we can collect.

Mr. Molson

Are we to understand from the Deputy Prime Minister's reply that this immensely important matter of the relief of great civilian populations is left to the military authorities? Is not this a political issue of the utmost importance?

Mr. Attlee

Statements have been made as to the arrangements made. There is a period in which this is dealt with by the military authorities, and later on it passes to the civil authorities. If the hon. Gentleman likes to put down a Question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will be prepared to give full details of how and why these arrangements are made.

Earl Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the evidence is enormous—and he knows it as well as I do—and will be grant a day for a discussion in this House, and agree to some general declaration on the situation?

Mr. A. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that very large quantities of foodstuffs have been stolen both in France and in Belgium, largely as a consequence of the appalling conditions of the civil population, and that the provision of adequate food supplies for the civilian population would enable cigarettes to reach our own troops in the front line; also that this conflict between the military and civil situations in France and Belgium is causing the prestige of this country to go down and is interfering with the war effort?

Mr. Petherick

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that public opinion is really disturbed here, and that it is quite unnecessary to exaggerate, as everybody understands the difficulties—the blown-up bridges all over the Continent and all those kind of difficulties—and could he seek some opportunity of telling the House what is being done?

Mr. Attlee

I will consider an opportunity for making a full statement. It is obviously impossible to deal with every point that is made by question and answer. I have stated, and everybody must realise, the difficulties and the effect of them, but that is no reason to make what I venture to say to the Noble Lord is a too widely-extended statement.