§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 5.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Greenwood
As I was about to say when we were interrupted, not only is the problem one of food, but His Majesty's Government and the United Nations have declared that it is one of raw materials, clothing, and other supplies, and the provision of those means of life which will enable them to pull themselves back to 1427 normal. That does not merely mean food or clothing. It may mean fertilisers and seeds; it may mean agricultural implements; it may mean raw materials to get their factories started, but it is the beginning of building up their life. The difficulties are obvious to all of us, and I think we appreciate that the difficulties, though grave, have somehow or another before very long to be overcome. They must be overcome in the human interests of the people who have suffered so terribly. They must be overcome because of our desire to aid universal prosperity because, as I have so often said—and I re-affirm it now—an impoverished Europe means an impoverished Britain.
I do not wish to enter into any political considerations, or to deal with the question of Germany after the war. This is not the occasion. I am dealing with the situation which has arisen before Germany is out of the war, and a very urgent situation it is. I believe—and I am sure all sides of the House will agree with me about this—that our treatment of the liberated peoples, our sense of urgency, our desire to go to their assistance, our determination even to strip the better-off countries, for the time being, for their needs, will be a test of the sincerity of our war aims. The Noble Lord spoke about psychological considerations. Such considerations are very powerful in the minds of the people, and we can prove to them and to the Germans, that if we wish it and work hard enough, we are liberators in the true sense, and that when they are released from their serfdom and suffering it will, in the long run, bring them full freedom of prosperity and human wellbeing. If there is to be a re-educated Germany, it can only be by noble examples on the lines I have suggested.
§ 5.48 P.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Attlee)
I think the House is indebted to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) for raising this very important subject, a subject which is of world importance and of deep human interest to us all. I do not wish to complain in the least of what he has said. He asked certain questions, and I will try to answer them. I will try to give the House a picture of what conditions are like in. the liberated areas, and of the kind of problem which has to be 1428 faced. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has said, this matter has always been one of anxiety to the Government. Ever since November, 1943, there has teen a Committee of the Ministers immediately concerned, sitting under the chairmanship of the Minister of Production; making preparations and following out this problem very closely. Recently, at the request of the War Cabinet, I went to the Continent and visited Paris, Brussels and parts of Holland in order that I might report on the situation to the Cabinet. I had long talks with French Ministers, with Belgian Ministers and with Dutch administrators, and I visited the military authorities at S.H.A.E.F. headquarters, and also at the 21st Army Group.
I was enabled, by this means, to get a picture of the broad quantitative problem, that is to say, to see how far supplies made available now and in the future, are, and will be, adequate for the needs of the population. I also tried to study the distributive problem, that is to say whether, given adequate supplies, the means of distribution were effective to ensure that they got to the people who really needed them. I studied the machinery for providing supplies to see bow they are estimated, ordered and brought forward. But the House will realise that in the six days which I spent abroad, it was clearly impossible for me to visit all areas, to see everything for myself. I had to rely, in the main, on information given to me personally, and on the talks I had. I made as close an observation as I could as I went through, but I should be the first to disavow the idea that I could give a first-hand picture of the conditions in all these areas.
I will try, as I have said, to give the House the picture as I saw it in the liberated areas, the prospects for the future as seen against the background of the probable course of the war, and of the world supply and transport conditions. Events are, of course, moving very rapidly to-day. Even in the short time since I was there, the situation has changed a good deal. I did not go there to try to hold an inquest into the past or to see whether everything had been done properly during those past months, but I think it right to give the House a sketch of the course of events, because without seeing past events, one can hardly appreciate the problem of the present.
1429 I would like to indicate some of the difficulties that faced the military authorities, and still face them, and particularly to stress the necessity of understanding the immense problems that face the Governments of France, Belgium and Holland. It is no good thinking that these Governments, going back to their liberated areas, have anything but the most appallingly difficult administrative tasks. First, I will give the House, as far as I can, a picture of the machinery by which goods are procured, and how this machinery works. Let me remind the House of the general conditions of these three countries, France, Belgium and Holland. In normal times, France is not a deficit area, except for certain items. There are certain deficit areas but, broadly speaking, France is normally a self-sufficient country. Nevertheless parts of the country differ very much from each other, and it is only when they are linked together by transport and distributive systems that they can make a satisfactory economic whole. In the main, the surplus areas of France lie in the North and the deficit areas in the South. Therefore, if the means of transportation are broken down problems of distribution are bound to arise. Belgium, always a food importing country—although parts are self-sufficing—is one of the most heavily industrialised countries in Western Europe. So, too, in Holland, although there are food-producing areas such as in the Ardennes, and the islands of the Scheldt. Let me mention a fact which is not forgotten here, but is sometimes forgotten outside this country, namely, that Great Britain, the base for the entry into the Continent, and the nearest source of supply, is the country which itself depends most of all on imported supplies, a country which has been under constant air attack of varying intensity through these war years, a country dependant for its life on the import of food from overseas under the constant menace of the U-boat. Let it be remembered that as a deficit area, this country cannot supply other deficit areas, except at the expense of its own supplies, a great proportion of which much come from overseas.
The landings on the Continent were planned, and duly took place on D-Day. No one could prophesy their success, or how fast or how far that success would go. The responsibility for the provision 1430 of supplies to the people of the liberated areas rests on the military authorities. Their duty, however, is limited to the provision of what is, essentially, an austerity standard. A minimum standard is carefully estimated to be sufficient, but it leaves little or no margin, and it was on this basis that S.H.A.E.F. headquarters had to make the best estimate they could of what would be required to be brought in, taking into account what is supplied by the liberated areas themselves. They had to consider available shipping, port resources, and internal transport. All that had to be worked in with the requirements for a great moving battle. It was no easy task. As I say, this was an austerity standard; it was not adopted out of meanness, but because military affairs must come first and with the enormous pressure there is on every kind of transport and ports and all the rest of it, and with the stringency you get in a war of movement, civilian needs had to be kept to the minimum necessary.
§ Earl Winterton
This is a point of great importance. When the right hon. Gentleman says that military needs must come first, I hope he will also say, "subject to the minimum needs of the civilian population."
§ Mr. Attlee
That is what I said. I did not want to pitch it too high. Minimum needs have been worked out to keep the people going. It is for minimum needs, and I am glad that the noble Lord has helped me to make that point. Just see how the position developed. Landings took place and were supplied by that remarkable artificial harbour that many of us have seen either actually, or in pictures and plans. The work of freeing the major ports took place very slowly. The Germans hung on to them. Antwerp was not open until 1st December. Maintenance, the supply and re-inforcement of the great forces moving through France and Belgium towards the German border, had to be provided through the artificial port, and a number of small ports. Through them had to go everything the troops themselves wanted, and importations for the civilian population. It is a very long haul from Normandy to Belgium, and I think everybody will understand the difficulties. The further we went, and the more rapid was our success, the greater the difficulties. Moreover, as everybody remembers, the 1431 attack on the Germans involved the destruction of many bridges by ourselves, by the Germans, or by the partisans, and the destruction of much road and rail transport. In effect, there was dislocation of the whole transport system in Northern France.
Against two great difficulties let me set two advantages. The first was that the landings took place just before the harvest, which meant that the campaign was going on while the greatest amount of supplies was coming from France. Secondly, we got rather larger stocks off the enemy than we had anticipated. It may be said that those factors for a time cancelled out. The fact of getting the harvest and of getting German supplies was a temporary advantage, but the disadvantage was continuous until we could open up major ports and repair the transport. Therefore, there was this over-all difficulty of supply. When we got ports, there was the immense difficulty of distribution in a country where not merely the rolling stock had gone, but bridges had been broken down.
It follows from this that the picture in any liberated area has its lights and shades. It is not all dark, it is not all light. You will find generally that there is something more than the bare rations in the richer agricultural areas. You will find generally that most difficulties are in the poorer parts of the big towns. In France it is natural that the shortages should develop particularly in the South, which are the deficit areas. There was a very widespread destruction of bridges throughout France. Inevitably, the earliest repairs had to be done in the Northern sector which was supplying the front and the troops going forward. Very great progress has been made in repairing bridges and railways. I think the French have done an extremely good job, and they told me personally how grateful they were for the work of both British and American engineers. A really marvellous job has been done in the replacement of bridges. Engines and rolling stock have been sent from this country—and again the French expressed their gratitude—and some of those engines and rolling stock could be very ill spared. We are not too well supplied ourselves. I quite agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham, and I do not contest his figures. 1432 What has to be realised, first of all, is that, however it is shared out, it is a question of a mere fraction of the transport that was available for France in peace-time. Secondly, military traffic necessarily takes a large proportion, but we have sent over there engines and a great deal of rolling stock, and we have got more in hand and being made; but with the best will in the world, with the kind of destruction that has gone on in the transport system of Europe, it is quite impossible for this country to make it up. We send what we can.
Let me add a further point. One wants to get clearly in one's mind the long-term and the short-term difficulties. One of the most tragic problems—and it was a tragic problem—was that of Paris. This was partly due, of course, to the war circumstances, but it was very much increased by most disastrous floods, such floods as they had not had in decades at that time of the year, followed by a hard winter and then the normal floods. These floods had their effect on road, rail, canal and river transport, and especially affected the transport of coal, which normally came to Paris by barge. Everybody must realise that the conditions were very, very bitter in Paris last winter.
I shall say a few words later on with regard to the over-all position, but I was glad to hear what the Noble Lord said with regard to the mistake of trying to judge a country by a single example. It is quite wrong to suggest that because you had butter in Normandy, all Normandy is fat and all France fat, or to make a similar generalisation, because you happened to go to Paris and get a good meal in a restaurant. It is equally dangerous to generalise on the score of some letters or personal experiences which show extreme hunger or suffering in individual cases. The essential thing to bear in mind is that the picture is a patchwork.
I would like to say something about the machinery for providing for the needs of the liberated areas. The responsibility is primarily on the military authorities. They are responsible for what the Noble Lord called the minimum supplies. These are not only food but clothing, blankets, and soap. Coal and petroleum, again, have to come from Army supplies. It must be remembered that the Armies need a great deal of coal. It is not a question of what 1433 the military authorities want to do, but what they can do. The French have, as a matter of fact, provided the Allied Armies with more coal than we have exported to France. The coal situation has improved. The difficulty was to get the pit props, which came from quite a different part of France. In a country which is liberated, one finds that all the old integrations have gone because of the occupation. The monthly demands for supplies are approved by Shaef and sent to Washington, where they are approved, some months ahead, and the supplies are brought to a country.
In addition to these minimum supplies there are what are known as the National Import Programmes. These programmes comprise some food, but mainly raw materials and machinery—the whole range of commodities—sometimes in quite small quantities, but necessary to get the economy of these countries going. The responsibility for formulating those demands rests with the National Governments concerned. It is obvious that the full imports there were in peace-time are not possible. Therefore, we have to concentrate on the things that will give the best return. I would like to tell the House that we have made available to liberated Europe substantial quantities of raw materials in order to help them to start their industrial life. We have indicated our willingness to supply something like 400,000 tons of raw materials, or if you take some part of the resources from abroad, nearly 500,000 tons.
The total includes substantial quantities of such things as iron and steel nonferrous metals, textiles, tanning materials, chemicals, fertilisers, and the like. Many of these things we import from abroad, but in order to save time in shipping we sent them across until the countries themselves can get in the stuff from the normal sources. We do this where we have sufficient stocks. Some of these stocks have already been sent, some are still in the procurement stage, and in the case of others negotiations are still proceeding. We have placed contracts for finished equipment, the materials for the repair of transport and agricultural machinery. A hundred locomotives are being built for U.N.R.R.A. and over 10,000 railway wagons are on order for France. It may be said that "on order" is not much good, but a great many 1434 wagons and trucks have been sent. The Noble Lord said that there were no lorries for lifting sugar beet. The fact is that we have not got the lorries to send over in that quantity.
§ Mr. Attlee
I was dealing with this country. The lorries are not available for us to send to France, and as for the lorries being made in the United States, that falls on to the general shipping allocation position. Lorries are coming from the United States, but with the shipping available it is not possible to get them all across at once. They are coming gradually.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Were the supplies which my right hon. Friend was speaking about just now sent from this country alone, and not from this country in consultation with the United States?
§ Mr. Attlee
All are sent in consultation with the United States. Some are procured here, some in the United States, and some come from wherever they can be procured and wherever shipping can be got.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a great number of Army lorries laid up awaiting repairs and that the lack of labour may make it impossible to release these lorries for France immediately? Would it be possible to bring some skilled labour over and so make possible a greater flow of secondhand lorries to France?
§ Mr. Attlee
Ten thousand of those lorries have been repaired and sent across. The lorries are over there. We are trying to get them repaired on the spot by French labour. That is better than bringing French labour here, in view of the difficulties of accommodation, and so forth. We are trying to supply the materials, jigs and tools. In many cases, when the Germans went they stripped the place of everything. We are not too well off in the matter of jigs and tools, but we are trying to get them.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many lorries have actually been sent to France, Belgium and Holland, the most easily accessible countries, and how many of those sent have been available for civilian needs?
§ Mr. Attlee
Ten thousand have been sent for Army Civil Affairs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will be replying to the Debate and perhaps he will be able to give the details which I have not got at the moment. We are trying to direct our efforts to getting the economies of these countries running so as to enable them to do what they are very anxious to do, that is, to do their best to help in the war effort. It is a system called priming the pump. It is obviously much better if we can get them to work mending their own lorries than to send shipments across. If we can get fertilisers to them, they will grow food and later on will not have to import it. The bottleneck may be shipping, it may be ports, it may be internal transport.
Let me say now what is the general position to-day. There are hardships, there are local shortages, but I think one can say that, considering the difficulties, the military authorities have done good work. There have been delays occasionally in the procurement, no doubt there have been mistakes here and there, but broadly speaking, in spite of very great difficulties, these minimum supplies have been sufficient to avoid disease and unrest. I at once admit, again, that the standard is minimum, far lower, as the Noble Lord said, than the standard in North America. Obviously, the standard has to be, and is, supplemented in the case of heavy workers, but it is sufficient to maintain health, and up to now there has been a remarkable freedom from epidemics. That speaks well for our success. I would point out here that these Supplies are precarious. They depend on the punctual fulfilment of programmes and the efficiency of the machinery of distribution. That is an important point. It has not been possible to build up reserves. These countries practically live from ship to mouth where all the goods have to be imported. Unless a country has known what it is to be rather closely rationed, it does not always understand why we must have stocks; sometimes they say that if there are stocks why not use them up at once? During the last five 1436 years I have watched our stock position very closely, and I can tell the House that I have had some pretty anxious moments with regard to particular commodities. I know pretty well what kind of stocks you have to keep, if you are to keep your distribution right at all points.
I think it is a very great credit to the authorities overseas that they have had so little breakdown. A general told me that he had to go down to the ship, get the flour out to the bakery and bake the bread there. That was how they got the bread, and saved the situation. One of the other difficulties that have to be realised is that of running your own economy. I have every sympathy with the military authorities. I have said that we have been able to release transport which has been very much appreciated, but I do not think the Noble Lord was quite right in what he said with regard to our shipments. I do not question his figures—I think they are right—but I do not think he got quite the right deduction from them. It is true that 200,000 tons of shipping have been allocated recently to France and the Noble Lord rather implied that that was to the disadvantage of the French, but I wish to point out that France shares in the general pool of shipping. All Allied shipping is pooled and you would not get better supplies to countries, if you pulled their shipping out of the pool and allocated it separately. I have tried to follow some of the points that have been made but I cannot find any record of the cocoa rotting in North Africa. As to Dakar, the Noble Lord would be glad to know that some ships have been specially allocated there. The position at Reunion has always been very difficult because they have cyclones there, and very poor port facilities. The broad picture is that we try to bring supplies from where they are to where there is need, and what we have to make sure of is the greatest economy in shipping, haulage and port facilities. I do not think that we have let our friends down in this respect.
I have said that our stocks are not large. Up to this moment, the Minister of Food has sent, or agreed to release to the liberated areas, which includes some of the Mediterrean areas as well, 900,000 tons of food from our own stock. It is very difficult to realise what that means, and I should like to bring out the figure a 1437 little more graphically. I know that quite a lot of people would like to send parcels to friends across the Channel. It is a thought that appeals to all of us. My right hon. Friend has explained that it is a wasteful method. One of the troubles is that it does not necessarily get the food to the quarter where it is most needed, and it is based on rather haphazard international connections between individuals. Take that 900,000 tons which we have sent or are still sending from our stocks. That is equivalent to what would have been sent if every single man, woman and child in this country who had a ration card, had sent a food parcel weighing 4 lbs. overseas every month for II months. I think hon. Members would agree that if we had a voluntary organisation that sent parcels with that result, we should think that it had done extremely well. The point is that we in this country know that the only way you can ensure food getting where it ought to go, is by a rationed system and through the official sources.
If the food parcels could be sent only on the production of medical evidence, and there was serious need—we have heard of cases where such parcels would enable people to live or probably save them from tuberculosis—would it not be possible in such special cases for such parcels to be sent?
§ Mr. Attlee
I ask hon. Members to think of the immense amount of work and organisation, the packing and then the checking involved. It is not so easy as has been suggested. My memory reverts to a strong animadversion of the hon. Member in this House about 18 months ago, on this business of sending parcels, when she begged us not to use that method of sending food because it meant that only certain people got extra food. I think, considering the position we are in, that the only and the right way is to support the French and Belgian Governments in trying to get the food distributed throughout the whole country.
§ Earl Winterton
In view of this very generous conveyance of 900,000 tons of food, would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the strongest representations have been made to the United States Government, pressing on them the constitutional and moral responsibility they have for making up these stocks?
§ Mr. Attlee
I am going to deal with that point later. I would now like to say a word about the black market. There is a black market in France and in Belgium, and it is a serious evil, but it is possible to exaggerate it. Let me take an instance of the kind of thing that could happen. Some one expresses a desire for coffee, and you want to send some coffee across to France. By that you might very well start a black market—because the people who got the coffee might not be genuine—unless you could check the whole matter right through, and as hon. Members are well aware, it is extremely difficult to check these things. The only way to do it is to have adequate supplies on the ration. One must also remember that in the time of the German occupation, the black market was a virtue. Now it is being turned into a vice, and it is very difficult to get rid of those habits. I am quite certain that the Governments over there are doing their very best and we ought to give them all the help we possibly can. It is going to be a very difficult task. I think it ought to be made clear to hon. Members that, just as our operations were advantaged in 1944 because they took place before the harvest, so we are now approaching our most difficult time, because we are coming to the short season before the next harvest. Belgium and Holland in particular have to depend almost wholly on imported foods. If the food supply asked for and intended, could be provided punctually, and if all other factors remained normal, I think we could hold that position. I think if we can keep the thing going, reasonably improving the internal transport and improving the distribution machinery, we can as I say hold on, but I must emphasise that we have to keep it going.
We have a shipping difficulty, and, on top of it, we have a procurement difficulty. At times we have had a great difficulty over shipping. Latterly our trouble has been that having got the shipping, we could not get the food. I ask the House to remember that the war has been on a long time now. Great sources of supply including important ones, have been cut off altogether, such as for instance supplies from the East Indies. Burma rice and others of that nature. Meat is very difficult. There has been a great drought in Australia. It is also difficult not only because the supply has been short but because the demand has 1439 increased. Very many people who have never had meat before in this war, are eating it now, because the standard of life and the purchasing power have gone up, particularly on the Continent of America. Therefore we find not only individuals eating more, but the population as a whole eating more meat, and the demand has gone up, from people who have never had it before. Another thing is that we have a great number of people in the Army today and they eat more meat than ordinary civilians. I do, however, quite agree with the Noble Lord that we have always to look pretty closely to see whether the Service demands are too high or too low. Wheat fortunately is in pretty good supply, but there we have shipping difficulties both with regard to getting ports open and with getting the stuff down to the ports. We are faced as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said with a danger of world shortages in certain imported items—fats and milk products.
It is against that world shortage that we have to see the picture of the liberated areas and all Europe. It is a very dark picture. In France the transport position is improving a good deal, and I found the French Ministers I talked to more anxious over the food situation than the transport position. The position in the South is undoubtedly bad in places, particularly in the towns. You would not, as a matter of fact, effect a cure even if you could pour food into some ports, if you could not get the distribution right and have the food distributed to the difficult areas. In Belgium, although the position was worsened by our Ardennes offensive and the food situation is not at all easy, it has been well held. Transport is difficult in Belgium because though a small country it is extremely highly-developed with regard to railways. The Belgians are very anxious to get their industries going. That is the important point. It is important from our own point of view and from that of the United Nations that we should use the manpower of those countries. The position in Luxemburg is very much the same.
In freed Holland the position has been reasonably well held. I visited as many people in that country as I could, I visited Walcheren, the great island which has been flooded, with the town of Middelburgh standing up in the middle of the island. I visited that and saw its people; 1440 they looked very fine, and their spirit was fine. They said to me, "If we are flooded we are free." Others said "this kind of thing has happened to us several times within the last thousand years." The Dutch are, I emphasise, a very fine people, a very sturdy people. I saw them working. They hope to get the material forward and that they will be able to close the gaps in the dykes and to get the agricultural land into good order again in a fairly reasonable time. I also motored through a good many villages and towns. I was at Maastricht when the people were on holiday celebrating the sixth month of their freedom. I saw the children, and they looked pretty well all right. I am not going to judge the whole country by samples. I can only say that the samples I saw looked as jolly as could be.
The thing that is troubling the Dutch in free Holland is not their own case but the terrible case of those of Holland still under the Germans. I do not think the Noble Lord put it in the slightest degree too high when he talked of the terrible disaster that threatens this great people. The Germans are giving them only about a quarter of the standard in free Holland. The food is utterly inadequate. We have got some food in through the Red Cross—not enough but as much as we could. We are making preparations to feed them as soon as we can get there, and there will have to be specialised foods for people who are very near starvation. We are making our plans for feeding them—the House will net expect me to tell them anything about our military plans. We are regarding it as an operation which cannot wait, but it will take time. We must get the stuff through. We are making every effort. Everyone is alive to the situation. We are laying our plans to do everything we can in order that, when Holland is free, we can get the food to the people.
There is one other anxiety that I ought to mention. There has already accumulated a great number of displaced persons; they are the people who have been taken away from their homes to work as slaves for the Nazis, and, as our Armies move forward, they become free. They have to be fed and looked after. If these countries are working on a narrow basis, they cannot stand the impact of a large number of displaced persons, and we have to make provision for looking after the displaced persons as well. There is the further 1441 prospect that we may have to feed a great number of Germans. Hitherto they have been found to be tolerably well provided for, but I agree with what has been said about conditions of life inside Germany. We must do our best, but our friends must come before our enemies. I have not said anything about U.N.R.R.A. because that is not really operating in these particular countries, but I should not like people to think that U.N.R.R.A. is not important. It is very important, not only for the supplies but for the personnel service.
I have tried to give the House a general, balanced view of the problem. I believe that actual needs are being met, but the matter is critical and we have to see that they are met. The Ministers of Production and Food have gone across to the United States at the invitation of the President to discuss the general food problem and the special food problem in the liberated areas. I repeat that we are a food-importing country. We have reduced our stocks to what we believe is the limit of safety, having regard to our island position. We lie near the Continent, and there is always the tendency to call upon us for immediate aid if there is a sudden difficulty. We have responded again and again, but, if our stocks were reduced below danger point we should not be able to respond in the future. Our own regular rations are not on a high scale. They are on a very modest scale, and you cannot make big reductions in them without affecting the war effort. We are in the sixth year of the war. Our people, in South-East England particularly, have borne the burden of intermittent air attacks. Anyone who has been under fire knows what a difference it makes if you have a good meal inside you.
How many people live on their rations? They all supplement their rations at restaurants if they can afford it.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is my right hon. Friend aware that during a certain period some miners had to stop work because their rations were not sufficient to enable them to carry on?
§ Mr. Attlee
That is quite likely. In any event, what we could for a time cut from our rations would not really meet the 1442 need. We have shown, again and again, and will show again, our readiness to bear our share in the relief of the liberated areas. I think the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite quite rightly interpreted the feelings of the people. These things are being worked out. I have not the slightest doubt that the people on the American Continent feel as we do. Their hearts are as warm as ours and they have as much sympathy as we have. It is a vital interest to all of us to get as good conditions as we possibly can, as soon as we can, in the liberated areas. I agree that it is as essential for winning the victory of freedom and democracy as destroying the enemy in the field. I am sure I express the view of the House in saying that, within the limits of our power, we in this country will do our share to help our friends in the liberated areas.
§ 6.43 P.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I am happy to be entering the Debate at a moment when the House has already had the advantage of hearing a first-hand account from the Lord President of the Council of both the difficulties and the actual situation of the countries that he has visited. He has made it clear that the responsibility is, as it must be at this moment, solely with the military authorities for the areas in which they are operating. When I say "responsibility" I do not mean discredit. I mean whatever is due of credit or discredit. I agree that a great deal of good work has been done. This responsibility in the military areas rests on the military and, as regards supplies outside their area, it rests on the corn-biped Boards in negotiation with the national Governments. It does not rest in any degree at this moment with U.N.R.R.A., and I think it is well that this should be made very clear. There is a very great deal of disillusionment about U.N.R.R.A. One hears the question on all sides: "Why is not U.N.R.R.A. doing something about this? Is it never going to operate?" I think it is well to say very clearly that at this moment, 15 months after U.N.R.R.A. has been created, it is true that U.N.R.R.A. is not operating on its own responsibility in any liberated country. U.N.R.R.A. is managing a few camps in North Africa, it is collaborating, to a limited extent, with the military in regard to plans for dis- 1443 placed persons, it has supplied a few tons of clothing and food to France. It has also supplied a limited personnel, working under the orders of the military, who have helped in Greece, and it is in Greece perhaps that U.N.R.R.A. will first be operating on its own responsibility—on 1st April next. But that is about all.
Why is this? I think the Governments who created U.N.R.R.A. started it too early, organised it too cumbrously, circumscribed it too narrowly and advertised it too enthusiastically. It is no advantage for a new institution to be given the job of planning many months beforehand if the planning is in vacuo, if the time when you can operate is an indefinite time ahead, if the plans have to be adapted, not only to unforeseeable future conditions but to invitations, consents and decisions of external authorities whom you cannot control. In these circumstances it is extremely difficult either to recruit the right people, to maintain their morale or to acquire the official prestige which is power. I said the Governments have made the organisation of U.N.R.R.A. too cumbrous. I say "the Governments" deliberately, and not the Administration, for it was the decision of the Governments at Atlantic City in 1943 which established the elaborate network of committees on each side of the Atlantic. It was also the Governments which determined the disproportionate size of the Montreal meeting of the Council in September—altogether out of proportion to the limited number of questions that had to be decided. The size of the conference was the sum total of the national delegations chosen separately by the different Governments. Then, too, it was, I think, an embarrassing and perhaps regrettable limitation that U.N.R.R.A. was instructed to look after rehabilitation but forbidden to touch the sacred ground of reconstruction. That distinction means, if you try to apply it, that if, for example, the crying need of a district in Czechoslovakia is that a boot factory should be repaired, given its raw material and started, U.N.R.R.A. may help it to the extent that it may make boots for relief purposes but must stop if the boots are to be exported. That is impossible. It is not to be wondered at that in those circumstances U.N.R.R.A. has drawn back from the sphere of rehabilitation.
1444 All this does not mean that U.N.R.R.A. cannot do a good deal in the future. It will not do as well as if some earlier mistakes had not been made, but it can do a great deal if it is now given a chance. Here I should like to address myself to the Secretary of State for War, because it is he who can give them their chance. It is hopeless to think that, when the military decide that the moment has come to terminate their responsibility and for U.N.R.R.A. to take it on, they will suddenly be able to come in and at once take over the job efficiently if they have not been associated with the first stages of relief. I know that there is collaboration in certain fields, but it has not gone anything like far enough. Is it not possible to give instructions to our military authorities to see that to the utmost extent possible U.N.R.R.A. officials who will have to take over the work later should be associated now with the work being done under the authority of the Civil Affairs administration. I would like to go further and ask whether the Secretary of State cannot give instructions that plans should be made at once for arranging that many of the Civil Affairs personnel who will have acquired invaluable and indispensable experience in carrying out their duties in the military period should be so classified and arranged that they could be transferred to carry on their work with U.N.R.R.A. when its period of responsibility begins. I would like to make one further suggestion. When the fighting ceases there will undoubtedly be an enormous number of military lorries on the spot which can be dispensed with. I hope that arrangements are being made now for very large transfers of these lorries either to the national Governments, or to U.N.R.R.A. or the European transport organisation, or whatever authority is concerned, because there is no doubt that the future will depend a great deal on the extent to which it is possible to supplement and improve transport facilities.
I find quite a number of my friends, who are interested like myself in the future of international administration, saying that U.N.R.R.A, is the test of the future of international administration. May I earnestly advise them to drop that kind of remark, for it will be a terrible boomerang later. The first real test of an international organisation will be the first organisation that is created after the 1445 war has finished, and not one that is created now. I was in the first stages of the League of Nations Secretariat, and I know what our task was then. I have been in the first stages of the U.N.R.R.A. organisation, and I know what that task was. The difference is just this. When Lord Perth, then Sir Eric Drummond, had to establish the League of Nations Secretariat, which while political conditions were good was a very efficient organisation, he had these advantages. The League of Nations offered the most attractive work in the world with prospects of permanence, and he had the whole field of Europe from which to select his personnel. He had people in America and this country who had just proved their worth in the war and had just finished their war work and were not involved in new work. One could not imagine more ideal conditions in every respect. Governor Lehman was in an infinitely more difficult position. He had a temporary organisation with an uncertain mandate and no possibility of action except the other side of several hurdles of intervening consents; and the great majority of the suitable Europeans were locked up in Europe and the great majority of suitable Americans and British were locked up in immediate and urgent war work. It was impossible that in those circumstances we should get the kind of organisation which we shall hope to get when we have the chance of building a post-war international organisation.
I will now turn from U.N.R.R.A. to what is, after all, the question with which, we are dealing. That is the situation, actual and prospective, of Europe as a whole and the means for help, relief and reconstruction through whatever be the organisation. I agree generally with the Noble Lord the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) in his account, which was confirmed by the Lord President of the Council, of the situation in France, Belgium and Holland. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the normal rations for the normal person in France are not more than half of our not excessive rations. The situation is much the same in Belgium. It is a trifle better, perhaps, in the liberated part of Holland, but on the other side of the fighting line it is infinitely worse. Some food is, I think, going into Greece now, but about half the draught animals for 1446 transport have been killed, and four-fifths of the coastal craft have been destroyed. In Yugoslavia and elsewhere the situation is obscure, or it differs very much from district to district. On the Dalmatian coast there is great suffering but relative plenty elsewhere, with a complete absence of the transport needed to enable one part to help another. The Dalmatian part can only be helped by overseas transport.
We have had the difficulties described to us—shipping, internal transport, shortage of supplies, and other difficulties. We appreciate how grave those difficulties are. Of those difficulties, perhaps the most temporary is likely to be sea transport. We realise that there has been a shipping difficulty due, as the Prime Minister told us, to a coincidence of the peaks of the two wars. We shall find, I think, that the difficulty of inland transport will last longer, and difficulties of shortage of supplies of meat, fats, sugar and other things still longer. I wonder, as regards shipping, if it will not be possible for the Government to think of going one step further than they have at present. I realise that Allied shipping is in a pool, and I realise the administrative advantage of arranging shipping through a general pool. I wonder, however, whether it would not be possible now to assure countries like Norway, which has a large mercantile marine, under time charter to us and the U.S.A. that enough of it—or equivalent tonnage in its place—will be released to enable her to import what urgently needed supplies she can get as soon as she is liberated. Norway will find it impossible anyhow to get more than the bare minimum of what she needs because of the shortage of supplies, and will certainly not get more than will absorb more than a very small proportion of her shipping. Could we not now assure her that we will see that at least the distribution of her shipping in the pool is not such as to prevent her from carrying such supplies as she can get?
We, of course, realise that while operations continue civilian necessity must yield to military necessity. But through a very natural human characteristic which is not confined to the military, but from which the military is not exempt, the line between military necessity and military convenience is not always very sharply drawn. And when operations cease civi- 1447 lian necessity ought to be given first priority. I doubt whether the existing organisation is such as to ensure that that will be done. I hope that plans are being made in considerable detail for what is to happen if our present hopes of victory should be realised very quickly, when the whole problem of dealing with liberated areas will be immensely magnified. For example, I remember that at the end of the last war, in October, 1918, we had drawn up a series of alternative loading instructions for our ships in practically every port of the world, indicating precisely what civilian goods were to be put in the ships as they came forward for loading instead of munitions, which were to be left ashore. I hope that something of the same kind is being arranged now.
I have said something about the position in Europe, but I think that what really constitutes our chief anxiety is not so much the conditions in the countries that have already been liberated; we know where we are about them. It is about the kind of scene that will present itself to us as the curtain goes up, when victory is complete and the whole of Europe is before us as our problem and responsibility. We shall have before us, not, as we had after the last war, a substantially intact Continent with a few patches of devastation; we shall have a devastated Continent with a few fortunate oases. We shall find a scorched earth, destroyed factories, a shattered transport system, and the whole social and political fabric of society very largely in ruins. We shall find displaced persons to the number of tens of millions have to be dealt with. And we certainly cannot exclude from the account the problem of Germany and the supply of Germany itself. As the Lord President said, our friends must have priority. I agree, but that does not finish the matter. I so far agree +with him that I wonder at this moment—when perhaps the Nazi terror discipline is disintegrating, and when men may begin to pluck up their courage and break away from the Volksturm and other parts of the German Army and get back to their homes—I wonder whether at this moment, when the cattle are being slaughtered and the chance of Spring is being lost, it would not be worth while now to broadcast this message in every possible way that will reach the German people: that since there is going to be a 1448 world shortage after the war, and our friends must come first, we shall not be sending in such supplies as will prevent widespread suffering in Germany, but that every man who can get back now to his farm will be doing something at least to relieve the future suffering of his family and friends.
But that will not finish it. We shall find that the food for the German population is a responsibility. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), in her tribute to Earl Lloyd-George earlier to-day, referred to General Plumer and the view he took of the situation in Germany after the last war. The House will perhaps remember Plumer's famous telegram which he sent at that time. I remember it well, for I had just been to Germany and had come back to report to Mr. Lloyd George on the conditions I found there. I found him closeted with Colonel House when General Plumer's telegram was brought in. It said, in effect: "I cannot maintain the health of my troops unless further food is sent into Germany, for nothing will prevent my men from giving away their rations to the starving civilians around them." When the fighting stops that situation will recur to some extent, and we cannot wipe it off the balance sheet which we now have to face.
I now come to my last and my main point. The task we have ahead is not merely that of relief and rehabilitation; it is essentially the task of the reconstruction of Europe—of the whole of Europe, the Europe of our foes as well as of that of our friends. It is a vast task. It is not a task with which anything in our existing system is equipped to deal. U.N.R.R.A. is specifically precluded from undertaking that work—and it could not be made capable of undertaking it. It will not be the responsibility of the military authorites, whose operations will be ceasing rather than expanding. They cannot, and are not intended to undertake it. It seems clear that there must be some superior authority, which does not yet exist, which will co-ordinate and direct the policy of the main victorious Powers, as regards the reconstruction of Europe. In what will be left of the military organisation, the combined boards for food, shipping, raw materials and production, and in U.N.R.R.A., we have different parts of an instrument which, all 1449 together, might be used, partly at least, to undertake this work; but they do not between them cover the ground. And they are without central direction or any unified control.
What we urgently want is a superior authority, comparable to the Supreme Economic Council of which I was General Secretary which was established in 1919, differing only in that I hope it will be created with less delay, and will have a wider authority inasmuch as the task is greater. It must be an authority which will co-ordinate for the principal victorious Powers all their policy and their efforts in regard to assisting the reconstruction of Europe. It would instruct and control and supplement the different bodies in the present organisation. One might call it the Supreme Reconstruction Council. Let me say in passing that this is not a work for any organisation that can be set up as a result of the Conference on a permanent peace organisation at San Francisco. This is essentially part of the peace settlement itself. The responsibility must rest upon those victorious Powers who are making the peace settlement. A new Council of this kind should, I think, be established, end established quickly.
If we supplement our present system in this way we may have some hope of meeting the greatest challenge to the constructive effort of man that has ever been witnessed in the history of the world. Without it, our present system will be completely inadequate. The time is now. Last year was too early, and next year will most certainly be too late. The time is now.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)
In the course of the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) reference was made to displaced persons, who have been calculated to number between 20, 000,000 and 30,000,000 in Europe, a very large number of them in Germany. Among displaced persons I include prisoners of war, refugees, those who have been forcibly deported, and above all, the remnants of those Jews in Hitler's Reich. There were 6,000,000 Jews, and now 1,000,000 remain. The Nazis have carried out the 1450 most dastardly crime in all history. If I am in Order and I am not boring hon. Members, I would like to recount a story of refugees, as I myself witnessed it.
In 1943, when the Nazis first burst into Vichy, a large number of Jews, underground leaders, journalists and politicians who were up against the Gestapo, made a bolt for Spain. They went to Spain in their thousands, but Franco brought up his divisions to patrol every road, every railway and every other means of transport for at least 30 miles from the frontier, and it was touch and go whether the Spaniards would let that fleeing multitude into their country. It was only after the direct personal intervention of our Ambassador, Lord Templewood, that they were allowed in. Otherwise they would have been turned back. Many were, and were shot. Those who were admitted were charged, either with having carried foreign valuta into the country or having entered without papers.
The first thing that happened to the refugees was that they were taken to a police station and thrown into the basement. There they stayed for any time between 24 hours and 24 days, men, women and children huddled together, with no accommodation for sleeping, only two plates of soup a day, no facilities for washing and very inadequate sanitary arrangements. In fact, they lived in appalling conditions. Parents were taken away from children, who screamed all night. If a German deserter came in, he was immediately accorded special treatment and special food. From those basements the refugees were marched away to a prison. In a cell built to accommodate 20 people 40 of them had to live. The British Ambassador in Madrid again came to the rescue, and not only British subjects but practically all the refugees were supplied with blankets and money to buy food from the prison canteen. The food in those prisons was a little better than in the police station, but not much.
When the refugees left the prison, they were formed up, handcuffed in pairs, and marched to the station, put into cattle trucks and sent a two or three days' journey to a concentration camp at Miranda. In that camp, which was built for 1,000 persons, something like 4,000 men were crammed, and again conditions were extremely unpleasant. The water supply was insufficient and the 1451 sanitary arrangements and the food, though not so bad, were bad enough. The food was just enough to support life. It was very interesting to note that in the concentration camp a small black market thrived. In one of the barracks the black marketeers got to work. The British Government generously provided chocolate, biscuits and blankets, but when none of these were available on issue they could always be bought in the black market. I am afraid the black market had a great check when two of the chief participants were cut open with a knife and the place was set on fire. The black market then ceased.
In that camp were 800 Poles. Many of them had been there two or three years. They decided to go on hunger strike. It was impossible to have 800 men not eating, and the rest of the camp eating, so orders were given by the senior British officer that the whole camp was to go on hunger strike for a week. At the end of the time 200 men collapsed, but the point was gained. The Spaniards agreed to release all men under i8 and all men over 45, and to allow the Red Cross to go into the camp. The British Embassy assisted all those who were released to get out of the country. It was extraordinary how the whole camp looked to Britain to help, and were not disappointed. When these men left the camp they were changed in mind and broken in body. They were distressed. They were badly dressed and had no money.
When we come to Germany and meet the millions of displaced persons, they will be in exactly the same position, and probably much worse. What organisation is being set up to help them? We heard from the hon. Member who spoke last that the matter has nothing to do with U.N.R.R.A., but unless those people are assisted mentally, physically and morally we shall witness a terrible tragedy. They will die in their millions, by disease, pestilence and hunger. Surely now is the moment to get busy and organise relief, so that we may know what is to be done with those people. We cannot move them at once, because transport has broken down, and while we clear up the debris we shall have to find food for them. Are we organised for that task?
The Lord President of the Council spoke about the terrible conditions in Holland. I was interested to hear that the 1452 breaches in the dykes were about to be filled. I would point out that even if they are filled this year it is doubtful whether it will not take about seven years before the ground is again productive, and that during that time the people will have to be fed. On D-Day we had a great number of tank landing craft supplying the Army at Caen. At the synthetic port of Arromanches only 15 per cent. of the supplies landed there passed over the causeways. The supplies were in the vast majority of cases run in over the open beaches, and landed by the skill of our sailors. Surely we can organise those fleets for the feeding of Holland? Ports are not needed, but, only good sandy beaches where those craft can be dried out.
In regard to France, transport is requisitioned and so are coal and ships, and the effect on the French is practically starvation. In the South of France now the percentage of premature babies is rising by leaps and bounds, and the weight of the babies is very poor. Poverty is increasing. There is no milk, and no baby food can be obtained. Agriculture is seriously impeded by the presence of mines. The Nazi, with his usual cleverness, sowed mines with the harvest, and many fields remain uncut. In the South of France practically the whole of the olive harvest had to be left because of the minefields. Among the great necessities of France now are mine detectors.
As to man-power in France, there are, at least, 200,000 mechanics and drivers unemployed. Can they not be given a job? I have myself seen Pioneer squadrons preparing roads miles behind the front, watched by gaping Frenchmen who had nothing to do. Could we not have used them, given them work and given them part of our Army ration? At a chantier at Lille we saw the extraordinary spectacle of Frenchmen who worked there standing ill-clad and starving, watching Italian labourers, our collaborators—call them what you will—well clothed and given a hot meal. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) spoke of the great anger caused in France at the sight of German prisoners gorging themselves on American Army rations. That is very true. I have seen it myself, and the French have told me how absolutely disgusted, disappointed and broken in spirit they are to see these 1453 Nazis, who have taken the best from their country, now gorging and guzzling while they starve.
I would like to read a report which has been issued by the Quakers who are working in France. This is what they say:Life in France to-day requires a courage and persistence of effort, especially from mothers of families, that is hardly recognised in this country. The amount of patience and goodwill that meets one … gives one hope for the future of France. If this patience and goodwill now strained to the utmost, should give way before the impossibility of keeping children fed and warmed, the future of that country would be dark indeed. A little more food, a little more fuel at once, the knowledge that their near neighbour across the Channel was sending help at this moment, making available stores that could be replaced later, in order that the children should be warmed and fed now, might make all the difference to the possibility of that patience and goodwill holding on until adequate arrangements can be made by the French Government for its tried and suffering people.The Deputy Prime Minister has just announced the most magnificent gesture which this country has made in sending 900,000 tons of food to France. I ask him to see that this news is broadcast to France, that they understand that their neighbour across the small stretch of water is really stretching out a hand to help, and doing all it can to aid its suffering neighbour.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
My hon. and gallant Friend, speaking in great degree from his personal experience, made a valuable addition to the survey which the Deputy Prime Minister gave of the actual position on the Continent, so far as he had seen it. I think that what he has said will add to the feeling of apprehension which is in the minds of many of us as to whether the existing machinery, or indeed any machinery which we can foreshadow at this moment, will really be equal to the task of dealing with this situation as it may very well develop. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), opened this Debate with two very moderate speeches. They represented very faithfully the great concern in this country about the situation in liberated Europe, a concern and sympathy which are all the greater because we know that the countries which have suffered most are those 1454 which have done the most to resist the Germans during the period of occupation, and have therefore incurred their enmity and the full weight of their brutal methods.
The speech of the Deputy Prime Minister leaves me with a sense of doubt whether the gravity of the situation is fully realised. We are living in days when events march with exceeding rapidity. Within a few weeks the situation may be entirely changed. In Northern Italy we may have some 20,000,000 Italians added to our charge, Italians who by all accounts are doing valuable work in resisting the German occupation. Within a time which we hope will be short up to 20,000,000 displaced persons, who are suffering most terribly, may be added to the responsibilities thrust upon the existing organisation, and at any moment one might hope that some 5,500,000 people, if so many are alive in Holland North of the river, will become an additional charge upon the Allied organisation. I do not intend to speak for long, but I cannot refrain from adding my voice to those of the Noble Lord and of others who have already spoken, on behalf of the people of Northern Holland. The Noble Lord said that hundreds and thousands would die if relief were not brought to them quickly. That was an understatement indeed. They are dying now, they have been dying for weeks. They have been going from the great towns into the country lanes to look for food, and the roads are littered with corpses, because the Germans have not allowed the Dutch people to bury them.
Our Government may or may not have underestimated the burden which was to be laid upon them, the difficulties and magnitude of which have not been experienced before. They could not estimate the unlimited brutalities of the Germans towards the people in the occupied countries. That brutality has reached the very limits, one would have hoped, in Holland. The German broadcast message saying that from then onwards the ration system would stagnate really meant that it would stop. Looking at the situation by and large, making allowance for every difficulty—and heaven knows there have been enough—I do not think we can be at all satisfied with the position to-day. The Deputy Prime Minister told us that 1455 the situation had been held, but the situation in France is that she is without food and other necessities, and in Holland and Belgium it is such that it cannot be held at its present level without very serious political and even military consequences arising in the course of time. That is the position we are faced with at the present moment, and we must see what more can be done.
Nobody can question the ability of the Allied nations to solve these questions. The people who organised the invasion of the Continent on D-Day, and the people who arranged the man-power of this country as it has been arranged throughout this war, the people who organised the crossing of the Rhine, prove that we can do what we like, what we want to do, if we make up our minds about it and want it badly enough. I ask myself whether the existing machinery is adequate to the task. We know that the Combined Boards in America have done magnificent work. It would be difficult to over-estimate the economic importance of what they have been doing in directing supplies to the common need. That leads me to refer, in passing, to what has been said by more than one speaker about the arguments, I think in the main misleading and mischievous, going on about the food situation and the relative sacrifices of different countries. As to the U.S.A. I would say: I cannot for a moment think that the country which conceived the idea of Lend-Lease, the greatest, and as far as I know the only, successful piece of international Socialism which has ever been carried into effect, because it means "from each according to his means and to each according to his necessities," will fall short of any further demand which may be made upon it.
The important thing is that the facts should be known, and they should be placed fairly and squarely before the people of all countries. It is for that reason that the noble Lord has rendered great service to-day in securing this Debate, so that the facts may be known, so that many misleading ideas may be dismissed and the situation faced. As I say, the Combined Boards have done a great piece of work. The Army, with its other difficulties, has done well, though not, I think, too well. After all, disappointments arise, as someone has 1456 already said, from the exaggerated ideas which were formed about the possibilities of U.N.R.R.A. I would remind the House of the statement in the preamble of the United Nations, when U.N.R.R.A. was founded:Being determined that immediately upon the liberation of any area by the Armed Forces of the United Nations or as a consequence of retreat of the enemy, the population thereof shall receive aid and relief from their sufferings, food, clothing and shelter, and in the prevention of pestilence and in the recovery of the health of the people, and that preparations and arrangements shall be made for the return of prisoners and exiles to their homes and for assistance in the resumption of urgently needed agricultural and industrial production and the restoration of essential services.That was the statement, and it was received with wonderful enthusiasm everywhere as a new ideal for international co-operation. U.N.R.R.A. never had the powers or the opportunities to do any of these things. One hopes it may yet do very valuable work.
The apprehension of the people of this country with regard to the situation as it may develop was very considerably increased by the great gravity of the words which were used by the Secretary of State for War, towards the end of his speech in introducing the Army Estimates. He said:though we have got so far without disaster, I do not conceal from the House that in the coming months the demands for foodstuffs may become almost overpowering."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 66.]He went on to draw a picture of the whole resources of the Allies being overstrained in trying to avoid starvation. When he said "starvation" he meant death from starvation, because starvation already exists over a large portion of the Continent of Europe.
We must ask ourselves whether in U.N.R.R.A. and the operations of the military forces of the Governments concerned, there is the machinery which can cope with this situation-20,000,000 displaced persons, and, beyond that, the situation as it may develop in Germany itself, where there will be a population which, whatever we think or do about it, will constitute a very serious problem. I notice that there has been criticism of U.N.R.R.A. It was even mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Montreal Conference in 1457 September when he said that they had only a few days in Montreal to determine once and for all whether U.N.R.R.A. could do the great tasks which had been allotted to it, or whether this great conception was to disappear in disillusion.
§ Earl Winterton
Even more serious was the implied criticism of the Prime Minister of Australia of the British and U.S.A. Governments for failing to give the support to U.N.R.R.A. which they could have given. That was a most significant speech.
§ Mr. White
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. The Minister of State went on to say that the question was, whether it was to perform the purpose which was hoped for it, or whether this great purpose was to disappear in disillusion. We wonder what is in the minds of people who say these things. As my right hon. Friend said, Dr. Evatt has been most outspoken in his criticism. But we do not need to go to Australia for that sort of thing. The European Committee, on 13th February this year, passed a resolution, which was supported by Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, Sir George Rendell, and others. The aim was to free the European organisation from some of the red tape which prevented it carrying out its work. I notice that that resolution has been accepted by the Council of U.N.R.R.A. It is a most welcome sign that a scheme of greater decentralisation is being promoted. You cannot deal with famine on principles of accountancy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield asked, Where is the food to come from? Some time ago the chairman of the combined food organisations said that if they could secure the co-operation of Governments they could supply the overall needs of Europe in 1945. He went on to explain that that did not mean that we could move rapidly to a full diet, but that a normal calory programme of rations could be provided. He mentioned things in short supply, especially meat and fats, which will be in short supply for five or ten years, or even more, on the Continent; but he said that if the co-operation of Governments could be secured the overall needs could be supplied. What Governments are not co-operating? Perhaps we can be told something about that.
From what has been said here to-day, and from my own study of these matters, such as it is, I think that the Government ought to give immediate consideration to 1458 the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) that an organisation should be set up on the lines of that which operated in the last war, with an economic general staff. One thinks of the desolate and devastated Germany, with its immense population and 20,000,000 displaced persons. It is rather unfortunate that displaced persons are discussed as if they were a problem to be dealt with by themselves. We will fail utterly if we fail in the first instance to rehabilitate and feed the people in the countries from which they come. There are 500,000 Dutchmen who have been taken into Germany. You cannot take them back to Holland in any short period of weeks. They have to be dealt with on the spot. Many others have to be dealt with at the time. Action must be sharp, and it must be decisive; otherwise, these displaced persons will start legging it towards their homes, and many will die on the way. This is a problem of the greatest gravity, and I cannot see that the machinery which we have operating at present is adequate—I hope I am wrong. I think my right hon. Friend has made out the case for immediate attention to be given to the question of an overriding authority, which will be able to view the situation as a whole throughout Europe. It is on that note that I close. The situation is grave; the people of this country are concerned about it. They find great difficulty in understanding the great discrepancy between our outstanding, miraculous, success in the military field and our comparative lack of success in meeting the human needs of the civil population of the liberated countries.
§ 7.37 p.m.
Major Mort-Radclyffe (Windsor)
It is clear, from the speeches we have listened to, that all hon. Members fully appreciate the importance of this problem. Certainly no one who has seen in liberated Europe the results of malnutrition: the sallow, sunken faces of the aged, the stunted limbs of the young people; or a crowd of children fighting for a ration biscuit, thrown out of the back of an Army truck, can have any illusions as to the urgent need for relief. But to bring relief to liberated countries is easier said than done. It is therefore vitally important that we should remove from the minds of those in liberated countries any misunderstanding, if it exists, as to our capacity to do so. Hungry people do not take a very 1459 charitable view of their neighbours, and it follows that, if the scale of relief is less than liberated Europe anticipates, without a clear explanation being given, we shall be accused of being interested only in ourselves. We shall be told that our high-sounding phrases about post-war reconstruction in Europe have only a rather dull echo as soon as the physical threat from Germany has been overcome. Such aspersions, if they are forthcoming, will certainly be unjustified. Let us, therefore, say, quite clearly, that we will render all possible assistance to liberated Europe; but that our resources are not unlimited, and that as soon as the war with Germany is over the war in the Far East must clearly be a first priority call on our shipping, and that relief supplies to liberated countries are inevitably bound up with the amount of shipping available. In other words, let us try to explain to those in liberated countries that you cannot, however much you may wish to do so, put a gallon into a half-pint jug. But it is not only shipping which is involved in this problem of relief. As the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said, it is useless merely to dump sacks of wheat on a quay if neither rail nor road transport is available to convey these sacks into the interior for distribution to whatever region most urgently needs them. In this respect I hope that the Government will, when considering the needs of any particular country, pay close attention to the comparative values and priorities of actual stocks of food, compared with lorries and agricultural machinery, because there are many areas in liberated Europe where 20 or 30 lorries are worth several hundred tons of wheat, if those lorries can be used to transport existing stocks of food inside those countries to regions where they are more urgently needed; while looking ahead, a supply of agricultural machinery may make all the difference in certain areas between a good or a bad harvest in 1946, or maybe no harvest at all.
I would ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War if, when he replies, he will explain the actual division of responsibility between the military and U.N.R.R.A., in those countries where U.N.R.R.A. is going to operate. As I understand the problem, when U.N.R.R.A. enters a country and begins to operate its organisation must make 1460 some claim upon the military for the use of transport., which only the military at this moment possess. I hope that my right hon. Friend will clear up the doubts which exist, certainly in my mind and perhaps in the minds of other hon. Members, on that point.
Just as close co-operation with our Allies has brought us within sight of victory, so only similar co-operation, with particular reference to the United States, can enable us to tackle successfully the colossal problem of rehabilitation in Europe. That being so, we owe it to our fellow-countrymen to ensure that the joint contribution, and the sacrifices which that contribution involves, are borne fairly by all alike. I hope therefore that we shall explain very frankly to our American friends—and I am sure that they will not misunderstand us—that we in these Islands have worn our belts several holes tighter for a considerably longer period than they have; that, because of our geographical position, the civil population in the British Isles have endured hardships and physical danger which, happily, our friends across the Atlantic have been spared; and that, therefore, when Germany is defeated, partial demobilisation begins, and the troops come home, the British people expect, and rightly so, to be able to let out their belts a hole or two. Let us assure them that we are really anxious to make our full contribution to the relief of liberated countries but that, surely, they on the other side of the Atlantic would be the last people who would wish us, in making that contribution, to be forced to wear our belts tighter than they are wearing theirs.
Lastly, the problem of bringing relief to the liberated countries is both one of extreme urgency on grounds of simple humanity, and also one of first class, long term political and economic importance, because the sooner the relief is sent to the liberated countries, the sooner something like normal conditions can be reestablished, in which the flow of goods from one country to another can begin again to the mutual advantage of all. It is, to my mind, to put the cart before the horse to expect any Government in a recently liberated country to maintain its authority within its territory until the people inside that territory are reasonably fed, because no Government, whatever its political complexion, can possibly be expected to hold down a situation where bread riots and strikes are the order 1461 of the day. We must not forget that, ever since Hitler realised that he could not win the war in the military sense, he has been endeavouring to do the Samson act. He has been trying to bring down the pillars of European civilisation upon his head so that victor and vanquished alike would be crushed beneath them. We, and the United States, are thus in the position of the rescue workers, and we cannot claim to have achieved liberation in the widest sense until we have done all in our power to remove from those who have endured six years of occupation the fear of hunger—and of cold in the winter months—those two twin fears which, throughout the ages, have driven mankind to violence and to despair.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I must compliment the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken on the realism with which he has viewed the situation, and I venture to think that, the more speeches we have, the closer we get to seeing the real situation, instead of deceiving ourselves by making the picture look too fair. The Noble Lord who opened the Debate confined his attention to France, Belgium and Holland. I do not quarrel with that, excepting to say that that is by no means the whole of Europe, and that, when the whole of Europe comes to be liberated after victory over Germany, the situation will be more aggravated than anything which now appears. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) dealt with the same countries. I venture to think, however, that the situation that faces us in Europe is really much more serious than anyone has yet dared to say. It is a very much graver situation indeed; in fact, I do not think that we realise how very bad that situation is.
I would like the House for a moment to cast its mind back to the beginning of this war, and to remember what we thought of the war then and how very badly we were deceived about the war. The House will remember how, up to the time of May, 1940, we thought, or some people thought, and even Ministers of the Government thought, that this was going to be a comfortable war. I remember that, when I went out to Arras to General Headquarters and went to see various military formations there, in May, 1940, I was told at that time of the previous visit of a Minister of the Crown, who had 1462 got people round him and said, "Gentlemen, this is going to be a comfortable war." He was not anyone who is a Minister at the present time. To a very large number of other people, that period was rightly known as the "phoney war," and that view of the war was due to a completely wrong what I might call staff appreciation of the war. About that time, or rather shortly afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made a statement about liberation. He made that statement on. 20th August, 1940, and it has already been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, but I want to draw attention to it again, because it shows, even from the Prime Minister, an undue optimism about the possibility of relief and rehabilitation in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman said:We can and we will arrange in advance for the speedy entry of food into any part of the enslaved area in Europe,and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:The certainty that the shattering of the Nazi power will bring to them all"—that is, all the enslaved countries—immediate food, freedom and peace,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th Aug., 1940; Vol. 364, c. 1162.]Well, we have liberated France. We have liberated Belgium. We have liberated a portion of Holland, and we have not brought to them food, and we have not, excepting in a rather unreal sense, brought peace, but we have given them, at any rate, the right to rule themselves. We have had a wrong staff appreciation of the situation.
With regard to the military war, we had to learn by a series of very serious calamities. We had to go through the school of the retreat to Dunkirk. We had to endure the impact on us of the fall of France, and of Belgium, the vast scale invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany, which had not been anticipated, the terrible experience of Pearl Harbour and disasters in the Far East which we now tend to forget, although we are now dealing with the results, and, finally, we had to learn our lessons in the great school of desert warfare. We had to get out of the period of the "phoney war" by learning the realities of the war. I venture to say that we are now in the period of the "phoney peace," and we have got to learn to get out of the 1463 "phoney peace" by appreciating the realities of the situation and by getting a right staff appreciation of what the situation is.
I say this because I have lately had an experience similar to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, with whose statements, so far as they go, I have no quarrel. During the months of January and February I spent a rather longer time than did the right hon. Gentleman on precisely the same matter of investigating the conditions in France and Belgium, and in getting a little information about conditions in Holland. I got my facts, not from talks with Ministers, but by somewhat painstakingly examining such statistics as are available, and there are considerable numbers available, and by cross-examining large numbers of people in different positions, by visiting factories, schools and other places in an endeavour to get an appreciation of the situation. I regret to say that my appreciation is that the situation in France is very much graver than we have been led to think. I do not mean to say that I think the situation is one which cannot be remedied. On the contrary, I think it can. I think that, in regard to France, it is easier to remedy than has been suggested.
I have in my hand a map of France, on which all the different Departments are marked, and I have marked on this map the respective death rates, or rather the increase or diminution of the death rate, during the war according to those Departments. It is interesting to notice that, when one gets a map of this kind—and I got this from the Institute of Hygiene in Paris—it shows clearly that, in the agricultural areas, there has been a diminution of the death rate, because the food situation has been good, but in the urban and industrial areas in the North of France, in Paris and the Seine, at Bordeaux, Marseilles, Lyons and certain other regions, where food is not produced, the death rate has gone up. But always, in near proximity, that is to say within 100 or 150 miles of these urban areas, there is a region marked as a productive agricultural region, and this applies to the South, Centre and the North of France, and these agricultural productive regions could have been reached if there had been transport available.
1464 I am quite aware that one cannot visit France even for a few days, without being aware of the very bad condition of transport on the roads and the railways, but I do believe that, if a considerable number of motor vehicles could be provided, sent to different regions of France and put at the disposal of the French people—some to go to Marseilles, some to Bordeaux, some to Lyons and others to other parts of France affected by the failure to deliver food supplies—it would be a great help. I say vehicles, because there are any number of unemployed French drivers and mechanics who could maintain them, and all that would be required would be that we should send a few people to look after a motor convoy with just a few British drivers and mechanics for maintenance. I believe that, if convoys of that kind were sent to different parts of France, it might not be necessary for us to send food at all, but the supply of transport would go a very considerable distance towards relieving the situation in France. I do not say that this would go the whole way. I think there would still be great difficulties.
While on the other side, I also had the opportunity of seeing a large number of Bailey bridges in the forward areas of Belgium, Holland and up into Germany, and, knowing how easy it is to put up these Bailey bridges where rivers have to be crossed, I suggest that it might be possible to allow the civilian population to have the use of some of these most excellent and admirable inventions, which almost everyone who has seen them wants to possess. I should love to have one; they are the most delightful things. I believe that we might, by supplying motor transport, and a certain amount of bridging material, do a great deal more to help France without sending food. I do not say we should not send food; we should, and one food we should send, probably, is fats, of which there is a world shortage.
In the beginning of my speech I drew attention to the declaration of the Prime Minister, that liberation would immediately bring food, freedom and peace, and I want to emphasise that because it is on the basis of that declaration that U.N.R.R.A. was set up. That declaration was, in substance, accepted at the meeting of representatives of the Allied Governments which met at St. James's Palace on 24th September, 1941. They 1465 accepted, as something which could be carried out as soon as victory was achieved, that food, freedom and peace would immediately follow. Then, later on, on the same wrong appreciation of the situation, U.N.R.R.A. was set up on 9th November, 1943—set up by 44 United and Associated Nations which agreed to form the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association. Since that time, U.N.R.R.A. has done a very great deal of valuable work. It has made a survey of world resources of food and materials and a world survey of staff available, and it has a great many people in its employ. It has set up an organisation which, if it had the power and authority behind it, could do a very great deal, but, unfortunately, it has not the power and it has not the authority. There is nothing wrong with the personnel of U.N.R.R.A. or with the valuable information that they have; the only thing is that the personnel have not the power and authority to act, and, therefore, the information they have is not much use to them. Reference has been made to the very severe criticisms of U.N.R.R.A. which were made at the Far Eastern meeting of U.N.R.R.A. held in July of last year. At that time Dr. Evatt, the Australian Minister for External Affairs, who was leader of the Australian Delegation to the Far Eastern meeting of U.N.R.R.A., said:Something of a crisis is emerging in relation to U.N.R.R.A.'s affairs and functions. The question arises whether U.N.R.R.A. will in fact get to grips or be permitted to get to grips with the task for which it was created.Later on he said:It must be admitted by any candid observer that there are signs of frustration and disillusionment. This is due to the fact that, despite much elaborate organisation, U.N.R.R.A. has not yet functioned to any extent in the actual work of relief and rehabilitation of Europe.That was Dr. Evatt's opinion, which was so strongly backed at that particular meeting of the Far Eastern organisation of U.N.R.R.A., that they passed a resolution urging certain reforms along the lines of Dr. Evatt's suggestions. There is no doubt that U.N.R.R.A. got a shake up and is trying to pull itself together. But you cannot get the work of U.N.R.R.A. done by the U.N.R.R.A. organisation because it has not got the power. When the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) was speaking just now 1466 he made the suggestion that what was wanted in Europe at the present time is something like the Supreme Economic Council, which was formed after the end of the last war, and I have not the least doubt that is exactly what is required. You want a supreme economic staff for Europe. Do not throw away the valuable personnel or the valuable information that U.N.R.R.A. has got. Use U.N.R.R.A. as the Civil Service of your supreme economic staff. It is an excellent thing but it has not power and authority. The only organisation that could have the power and authority to do the work which is necessary in the desperate state of Europe at the present time is an organisation acting at the level of national Governments. It must be an organisation made up of representatives of the United Nations in the European theatre. It does not seem to be impossible to set it up. We have had to make all kinds of changes in our war organisations since the war began in order to compel the victory. If we do not make changes in our peace organisation in regard to meeting the elementary needs of the liberated peoples we shall certainly have a first-class disaster, and I am afraid that Hitler will be able to register a very considerable victory.
Let me say one or two of the things which were said to me many times when in France and Belgium, not by irresponsible people, but by very responsible people. They said that the food conditions in Paris since liberation are much worse than they were under the Germans, and they are. People in Belgium—and they were people of authority and well disposed to us and particularly some of the people working all out in connection with the extremely valuable welfare arrangements for the British Army in Brussels—said to me: "Food conditions in Belgium are worse than they were under the Germans." It is no good basing your appreciation upon the over-optimistic words of the Prime Minister when he said that there' would be an immediate supply of food to the liberated populations. In fact in France and Belgium, the conditions now are worse than they were under the Germans. The food situation is an arrangement which has been deliberately engineered by the Germans. Everyone in this House has been talking to-night as if conditions of semi-starvation and deprivation which have come into existence 1467 have happened fairly recently, almost during the last year. It is nothing of the sort. If you examine the statistics—and they are obtainable—you will find that the ration scales provided by the Germans for large numbers of the population in France were deliberately insufficient right back to 1940 and 1941. It was a piece of deliberate policy to underfeed large sections of the population.
The Lord President of the Council said to-day that during the occupation of France by Germany the black market was patriotic. In one sense it was, but in another sense the black market was an institution out of which a large number of individual Germans made a very large amount of money. There is no doubt whatever about that. The Germans themselves encouraged it. They knew all about things going to various people and they did not mind. They used the black market—I want to emphasise this because it is known to a very large number of people whose opinions must be heard—as a means of demoralising the French people. Another aspect of the French situation, perhaps quite as important as the deprivation of food, is the division caused among French people, in individual families, the division of those who were inclined to collaborate and those who were inclined to belong to the resistance movement. I wonder whether hon. Members have ever thought what collaborating means. Think of the position of a workman employed in a factory, where the employer he had before the war was still there under the Germans and said to him, "You must get on with making these motor wagons and you will get good rations"—and they got extra rations. The man might make these things without any thought at all that those motor wagons were to be used by the Germans as war material. Is such a man a collaborator or not for working in a factory, with the alternative of having his family starve and he himself be unable to do anything at all? That is the kind of insidious problem. Am I a collaborator? What am I to do? Am I to be a resister? How am I going to be fed? That kind of thing has divided French families and caused an extraordinary amount of psychological suffering among French people.
I do not know how many Members of this House have been over to France 1468 since it has been possible to get over there more or less easily. One of the things that struck me when over there was not only the lack of food; I was there during the period of intense cold and there was very great suffering from cold. There was practically no coal anywhere at all, not even in offices and shops and everything was freezing. But also there was the fact that every day in the newspapers—and I read many newspapers—there was a little list of the number of collaborators who had been shot. It was a grim business to read every day that a certain number of people were shot. There was a horrible psychological situation there. This Nazi policy of demoralisation as well as underfeeding is a very serious thing and is having one of its successes at the present time. It has produced a social situation which is very difficult for us to handle. Then think of the difficulties in the occupied part of Holland at the present time which are much greater than those of which I have been speaking. There will be frightful difficulties, worse than those in France and Belgium, in Norway and in Denmark, and there are great difficulties in Yugoslavia, great difficulties in Greece, appalling difficulties in Poland and in Czechoslovakia.
The question not only of the nutrition and ordinary feeding of people but of the political stability of these countries is a very serious one indeed. Unless we can really make a plan to feed and rehabilitate those countries on a big scale, unless we set up an economic staff for dealing with this civil aspect of the war on a scale as large as the staff required to plan D-Day for our military operations, I do not believe that we shall get out of our difficulties for a good many years to come.
In his survey the Deputy Prime Minister said that fortunately there had not been epidemics up to the present. It is quite true, but the soil in which epidemics grow is being spread all over the land of Europe at the present time. Underfed, cold, ill-clad, under-employed, miserable people are those in whom epidemics very easily and readily grow and there are, of course, foci, from which epidemics may spread, of typhus fever, malignant malaria and other forms of malaria, and other diseases in various parts of Europe. Prevention is very urgent indeed. I do not think U.N.R.R.A. can handle this problem. I do not think anything but a staff 1469 organisation, with a standing equal with Governments, and made up of representative Governments, can possibly handle this organisation. Transport is required, but trade and exports are required. Food is required, but consumer goods are required. In France a great many of the peasants have so many 1,000 franc notes that they do not count them, they weigh them by the pound. That is literally true. They will not do anything with those notes because they cannot buy anything in the shops. It is not only a problem of consumer goods but one of local administration and local government, and of national government. You will not have local government stable, or national government stable, unless you can bring not only physical help, but direction and assistance. Do not think for a moment that this nation can stand outside. We are one of the countries of Europe that need rehabilitation. We have our tremendous housing problem, for instance, and we in this country are also the possible prey of epidemics if they start on any large scale in Europe.
Worst of all is this, that unless we, as the representatives of the democratic Powers—I mean France, Belgium, the United States, all the democratic Powers—can bring help and feeding to liberated Europe, then what is to be the view of those who have endured the occupation of Germany, who have been impregnated with the propaganda of the Nazis over a period of years? They will be balancing up in their minds as to which is best—the Nazi system or the democratic system—and Nazism will, I am afraid, find many converts to its damnable creed unless we can help the people at the present time and show them that democracy really means peace, food and freedom. This country is in that too. The danger of Nazism, the danger that it will grow horribly like some accursed creature which, if you cut its head off still goes on growing in 100 pieces, that danger is a very real one.
We must have the general economic staff for Europe on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University and we must have that now. I suggest that we should take as our model the Economic and Social Council which is a part of the Charter of the World Organisation to be adopted on the 25th of April next and subsequent days at San 1470 Francisco. I hope that can be done but, in any case, we cannot wait for San Francisco. We ought to act now because, unless we act now, we shall certainly have anarchy in Europe. The British, the United States and the Soviet Governments ought to take immediate steps to set up an emergency organisation to carry out the economic civil planning of our European civilisation, and this European Council should, at once, take all peace problems—food problems, health problems, the rehabilitation of industry, transport—into its consideration, regard them all as matters of urgency, and then we shall have a real peace and not the "phoney" peace which I am afraid will only be the backdoor into Nazism again.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I am sure this Debate will have served a very useful purpose if it brings home to the people of this country the fact that we may, ourselves, be on short commons, if we are going to do our duty by those who have stood with us. I am afraid I feel that this is so serious a problem, that a great many of our social schemes may come to naught, if it is found necessary to reduce the amount of food available to people in this country. It seems to me that, until now, when this Debate has taken place, too little has been said in the House as to the appalling danger at our very gates. I had an opportunity a few days ago, when on the other side, of meeting people who are suffering, and also of meeting those who are struggling with a most difficult situation. I do not think it would be right for this Debate to take place without someone saying what a wonderful job is being done by the British officers of the Civil Affairs branch and the American officers associated with them. They have a very difficult task and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) was describing the difficulties of U.N.R.R.A. and saying that he thought that those who are now working in Civil Affairs should be transferable to U.N.R.R.A., there was one point that I think was even more important. U.N.R.R.A. cannot function, unless invited by the Government of the country, and I have yet to meet any of the Governments of those countries who wish U.N.R.R.A. to function, if it is going to be detrimental to their own status and 1471 position. It is quite a natural attitude to take.
There is one other matter which I do not think has been dealt with to-day, and to which I attach very great importance. We have heard a great deal about the problem in France, which is very largely one of transportation, and I was sorry to hear the Lord President say to-day that he would not contemplate the idea of bringing some of the French mechanics who are out of work in France over to this country to put in order some of the lorries—about 8,000 or something of that nature—which are waiting for repairs. Our problem here is man-power—there is a great shortage of mechanics in this country as we all know. These unemployed French mechanics could quite well, as far as I can see, be accommodated in camps. In many cases it means the "cannibalisation" of the lorries, in order to get the spare parts, and the fact of towing broken-down lorries to the ports and taking them off will complicate the work of the ports and is not one which I think the military authorities would welcome. The enormous amount of transport necessary to maintain the Armies is not, I think, appreciated, and when, one realises that the greater the speed, the greater the number of lorries required for the maintenance of the Army, quite naturally, that must be the first claim. Secondly, it is a matter of very great urgency to increase the stock of lorries available in France which, at the present time, is lamentably short from the civil point of view.
I had to see the head of the French railways, and I had a long talk to him in regard to the requirements of the French railroads. I asked him what the average demurrage on wagons was in France, and he told me that it was from 15 to 18 days. If you are going to have demurrage of that nature, and a stock of wagons is required at that scale of demurrage it is far better if you can get your wheels moving, to off-load your wagons, and distribute the goods which are in them. He told me that the French railways were very short of collection and delivery lorries, and that if they could have more it would reduce the demurrage on wagons from 15 days to something like six days, which is the figure for Belgium. So I hope that the matter earl be reconsidered with a view to speed- 1472 ing up repair of the lorries which are available in this country and in the Middle East, and getting the men transferred to France in order to assist traffic on the railways. There are, to-day, in France, about 450,000 unemployed, many of them trained mechanics who have nothing to do, and who I hoped might have been brought here to do that kind of work.
There is another matter, in regard to Belgium, which I think important. There is a great shortage of coal in factories and an accumulation of stocks at the pitheads, simply and solely because there are no wagons available to convey the coal to the factories and get them working. That is partly due to the hold-up caused by Rundstedt's offensive in the Ardennes, from which district all the pit-props come for use in the Belgium pits, and until that can be put right, the internal economic situation in Belgium will be very difficult. But quite apart from the conditions in France and Belgium, I think we ought to concentrate our attention on two other countries—one Holland, and the other, which has not yet been mentioned, Italy. Inundations have put out of use very large tracts of land in Holland and General Galloway, who is in charge of civil affairs administration there, has done a wonderful job. As the Lord President of the Council said, the fact that conditions in the liberated areas are better than he expected is very largely due to the co-operation of General Galloway and his Civil Affairs officers with the local Dutch administrators. That co-operation has been a model of the action which should be taken.
The position in regard to the future of Holland is one of which we ought perpetually to remond ourselves. There are about 1,000,000 acres suffering from inundation, much of it salt-water inundation, and where the tides have broken through the dykes, not only has the saltwater affected the soil but there have been carried with the water large quantities of sand, with which it is very difficult to deal. The re-seeding of these areas will be a great task. There is not enough grass seed available for all requirements, and it seems to me that we can make our contribution if the Minister of Agriculture will encourage the growing of grass seeds here for export to Holland so that they can re-seed. At present Denmark is 1473 unable to export any grass seed. As we all know, the agriculture economy of Holland is largely dairying and the Germans have taken away from the Eastern area, which ought to be self-supporting, a great proportion of the Dutch dairy herds and ordinary cattle. There is also a tremendous shortage of fertilisers. The Germans have removed all the plant from the factory in Holland which made nitrogenous fertilisers. It has not been replaced, and I hope that one of the things we are considering is the delivery, as soon as we can, of the necessary machinery to enable these nitrogenous fertilisers to be produced in Holland in order to help the recovery of the land.
Not long ago there came out of Holland a very gallant Dutchman, from Rotterdam, which, as the House knows, is still in German occupation. He brought with him a complete plan of what he thought should be done to make the port of Rotterdam useful, and I hope that that information is being acted upon. He had the impression that the Germans would cause a great deal of destruction before they were forced to leave, and he had taken that into account. It is absolutely vital, since roads are undermined by inundation and railways are equally in a bad way, that we should do all we can to resuscitate traffic on the Dutch canals. Bridges have been blown down over most of the canals, the mark buoys in the narrow waters of approach to the ports have been taken up and that means that a large number of launches and smaller craft should be made available in order to assist in the distribution of food. Reports from Rotterdam and Amsterdam are to the effect that the Dutch are literally starving. There is no doubt that the death rate in both those cities has been appallingly high. Whole families have suffered, a great many people have died, and it has been extremely difficult to arrange for burial. The whole economic situation is absolutely appalling.
Of the 4,500,000 people in the Western district of Holland it is safe to assume that 1,000,000 will not be physically able to digest ordinary food-stuffs. The Lord President mentioned that pre-digested foods were to be sent into the country. I do not know whether Members can take their minds back to the Bengal famine of two years ago, and the report of the India Office as to the difficulties and how they were met by the Army in 1474 India and by the Indian Medical Service. That report makes a wonderful story, and there is a great dealt to be learned from it. There is no doubt that in Holland it will be necessary to distribute a very great deal of pre-digested food-stuffs. As the House knows, the scheme for bringing Dutch children to this country is working well, and I hope we shall have more and more of them because I am sure their reception here will be very genuine. It is essential, however, that these children should first go to hostels in order that they shall not be killed by kindness. If they first had to eat ordinary food they would suffer and it has been arranged that after their sojourn in these hostels, until they are accustomed to ordinary food, they can then be passed on to British families.
There is one other thing I would like to suggest, again to the Minister of Agriculture. In Holland there are many excellent farmers and smallholders whose lands have been completely inundated. It will take five or seven years before they can get anything out of that land, and I believe there are many farmers in this country who would be only too delighted to welcome some of these Dutch agriculturists and obtain their help to produce food in this country, some of which will go back to Holland. Further, such a step would help to break down general prejudices and misunderstandings which have existed about Dutch agriculture, and its competitive attitude towards British agriculture. I am sure that the two things are complementary, and that the Dutch character is very much like our own. We understand the Dutch people, and they understand us. We are not dealing with Latins, but with people who think very much as we do. I am sure that if we could have some of those Dutch agriculturists here, it would help us in our agricultural effort and give them a chance of a living, because otherwise that portion of the Netherlands nation that depends on the land for a living will be out of work and unable to earn money, and will therefore be a burden on whatever relief organisation there may be.
There is another matter affecting Holland about which I want to speak. The whole system of communication in that country is very largely dependent upon bicycles, and the Germans have taken Practically every bicycle from the country. The Dutch are accustomed to go long distances to their work on 1475 bicycles, and now that they have been deprived of them, they have no means of movement. I hope this matter is being considered as part of the necessary recovery. It may sound a small matter, but it is an important one from the point of view of getting the people from their homes to the factories in urban areas. There is a great shortage of tyres for motor cars and bicycles, as the Germans have taken all the tyres they could get from the country. I hope that position can be remedied.
I do not think anything has been said in the Debate about Italy. Italy is certainly a part of Europe, but the other countries that have been discussed lie closer to us and are more in our minds. We have to remember the great feats of the Allied Armies in Italy. We have had long experience in Italy of how to look after liberated territory. Certainly, we have had some lessons in regard to the local and national government of Italy, lessons in what to do and what not to do; but I doubt whether the House or the country realises the appalling situation that confronts our Armies in Italy. The policy of the Germans has been to use the war potential of Italian factories for their own purposes. An officer who has, I believe, every means of knowing what he is talking about, has told me that there were trains passing through the Brenner Pass at a rate of about 33 a day going North and that the estimate was that about 450,000 tons of raw materials and all sorts of things necessary to the Germans were going through the Brenner Pass. We know that the Germans have taken over 1,000 kilometres of railway track, taking the second line of the double track and leaving a single track; they have taken away the overhead wires of the electric system of the trains in Northern Italy; they have made preparations to destroy the hydro-electric generating stations in the Alps; and we know, or should know, that the whole manufacturing capacity of Northern Italy is mostly dependent upon hydro-electric power. Sixty per cent. of the population of Italy is centred in that Northern portion. These people are the most virile type of Italians. In Milan, Turin and elsewhere there are those great factories which the Germans undoubtedly used for their own purposes, and one rather wonders what the position will be as the 1476 Allied Forces advance further North. There is no doubt that the position has been rather like the squeezing of a tube of toothpaste. There has been the squeeze at one end as the British advanced and at the other end the essential things were being taken into Germany. When our advance stopped that exit of material stopped also.
We may hope that the position of the Germans is now so precarious that they will not possibly oppose our advance. Nevertheless, the situation that will confront our Civil Affairs officers as they go into Northern Italy will be far more difficult than any situation that has arisen in France or Belgium, and for this reason, that the Italian people are very excitable, that the ports will be undoubtedly wrecked and damaged, and that the railways, such as they are, working under a very low rate of diesel locomotives instead of working electrically, will be unable to carry much traffic There will be literally hundreds of thousands of workers unable to do any work in the factories, there will be very great difficulties in importing foodstuffs or material to get the internal economy of the country running. There will be this vast population without food, with poor clothing, with boots especially lacking. Even if we had the material and the will we would not have the ability because of physical deficiencies to carry the food from the ships to the centre of the Lombardy Plain.
That is a situation that we ought to contemplate in advance, and it brings me back to what hon. Members have generally agreed in this Debate. Few of us in this House have the experience which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University has, and all that he says is well worth our attention. It seems to me that there is no time to be lost in establishing something on the lines that he suggested, such as a reconstruction council, or whatever one may call it. I hope the House realises that we owe a debt to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, for having shown how it is possible, without jealousy and without difficulty, to make a wonderful machine work in such a way that one does not know whether a job is being done by an American or a British officer, the whole thing being so completely integrated. There are that spirit and that organisation both at SHAEF and at Supreme Headquarters in. Italy. There is the knowledge 1477 that these officers have acquired and there is the co-operation. A great many of them feel that it is for them to administer the instructions which they get; but surely it is for us in this House to find out the difficulties that confront them and to make their task easier.
One of their difficulties was mentioned by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). It is true that under the Geneva Convention we have to feed prisoners with a similar ration to that of our own troops, but when there is so great a discrepancy between the British Army ration and the American Army ration, surely the situation becomes farcical. A German captured by an American lives on a ration twice as great as he would have if he were captured by British troops. Surely, some arrangement can be made—perhaps the Secretary of State for War will be able to tell us that it has been done already—whereby there can be fixed a common denominator, which I think ought to be the British ration; if it is good enough for the British, it is good enough for the Germans. It seems to me that it is entirely unnecessary to feed German prisoners on the scale of American rations. Of course, it is not for us to say what Congress should vote to the American enlisted men, but I think we could make that suggestion as regards enemy prisoners.
I have no more to say, except that I think the officers who are engaged in this work know far more of the frightful dangers that confront us than do most people in this country and even m this House. I believe we are going through five years of far greater difficulties than we have experienced when we have been fighting the common enemy. I think our enemies are going to be disease, hunger, pestilence, famine, misery amongst children, the difficulties of Nazi youth and how to handle them, and the greater our difficulties the more happy will be the small nucleus of Nazis, who may try to hold out in some mountain fastnesses. It is a desperate future, but it is one which we cannot leave to chance. I am afraid I feel that it has been made very difficult for U.N.R.R.A. to function in many ways and U.N.R.R.A. by itself cannot meet the situation. I am absolutely convinced that nobody is more anxious and more determined to see we do win the war by properly administering the liberated districts, than those responsible 1478 for our victorious advance. What we ought to do in this House is, at once, to try and get this reconstruction council appointed, and see to it that the organisation of civil affairs, which is working admirably shall have the chance of establishing that council, and not only give it the support of this House but try to get that of America as well.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott (Surrey, East)
I agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). Indeed, there has been no real conflict of opinion in the whole of this Debate, but I think, in view of the subject, it is no less significant on that account. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the subject. You may create in San Francisco, or wherever it may be, the most excellent machinery of peace that the wit of man can devise, and yet if there are in the world millions of human beings on the verge of starvation, or already starving, all your work may be of no avail. Europe is sore stricken; she is wounded with many wounds. Her peoples to-day are in a state of physical exhaustion and spiritual ferment. When men are hungry, disillusioned, angry, desperate, when they have no employment and no prospect of any, when their wives and children are starving, then they are in a temper in which they may do anything. Desperate minds breed desperate action. Men's capacity of fair judgment is destroyed. They are apt to turn upon their true friends. They lend their ears to evil counsellors. It is a grim prospect that opens up before Europe. The Lord President of the Council this afternoon said that it is a dark picture. It is, indeed, and it is a picture that will exist, not only in imagination, but in reality, unless effective remedies are taken immediately.
Britain is not merely a great Imperial Power. She is a great European Power, and therefore she cannot be unaffected by the state of the Continent of Europe. Recent events in Greece proved her interest in the state of the Continent. Greece proved how immediately, and how much to her detriment and to her danger, Britain is affected by these possibilities. It is perfectly true to say that it is the first Continental interest, both of Britain and United States of America, to restore the health of Europe. It is our Christian duty to do this. Whatever action His Majesty's 1479 Government may be compelled to take in this matter I believe deserves and should get the full support of this House. Such action may make the Government unpopular. With the end of the war against Germany, there will be, I think, inevitably, a general expectation of the availability of increased supplies. Yet that expectation may have to be disappointed. Indeed, I think we may—I hope we shall not be—forced to have some reduction. Therefore whatever action the Government may have to take, may easily incur unpopularity, and for that very reason they require our support.
What can this country do to meet these problems? I think she can, in spite of all the difficulties, do a great deal. Indeed, the Lord President of the Council indicated some of the things that are being done. I think she can do a good deal to alleviate the problems of the breakdown of transport in Europe. Transport is second only—if indeed it is second—to the provision of food. I could wish, and I think this should be said, that we in this country were now winning coal in large enough quantities to enable us to export it to foreign countries. Argentina last year was burning maize in her locomotive engines; this year she is burning linseed in the same way. She should be exporting both these commodities to us in exchange for British coal. Egypt was burning in her engines cotton seed which she should be exporting to us for use in margarine and for animal food. I would remind the House that France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal are crying out for British coal.
I agree with everything the hon. Member for Abingdon said on the subject of Italy—how the United States is to-day sending coal to Italy. She is also sending food to that country. I am glad she is sending food, and I think it right that she should do so. The state of the Italian people is very serious. Food stocks are nearly exhausted. I have obtained during the week-end the most recent and authoritative information from Rome on the subject of food, and I think the House might be interested if I set out a few of the facts. It is agreed that the minimum daily ration of calories necessary for health is 2,800. What are available to the Italian children? Only 864. There are 890 for expectant mothers, and just under 1,600 1480 for people engaged in heavy work, which is the highest figure. I have said that no fats are being distributed, but in the black market, when butter is available, it costs £2 per kilo. Milk is 2s. 6d. a litre. Meat, when it is available, costs £2 5s. a kilo and sugar £3 5s. I justify this policy of sending food to Italy not on grounds of sentiment but on the ground of the fundamental interest of the United States and Britain in the restoration of Europe. But how absurd it is that the United States should be sending coal to Italy by that long sea haul. It is we who should be sending coal to Italy.
§ Mr. Emmott
It is a lamentable fact that we have not the coal to send, but can we not increase production, in order to serve British interests in this way? We should be winning more coal, in return for which we should obtain from Italy valuable olive oil. I think, however, that it is impossible for us to export food to Europe in any quantity which would be adequate to Europe's needs. The Lord President of the Council did valuable service in reminding us that we are a food-importing country, and he was quite right in saying that, even if we diminished our rations, that would not meet the need.
The question remains, Whence is the food that Europe needs to come? I think the undertone, as well as specific statements that have been made in the Debate, leaves no doubt that in the view of the House—and it is true—the United States is the chief source from which this food must come. I fully believe that the President of the United States desires to take action in this matter on a big scale, and I believe the American people as a whole, who are a very generous people, are prepared to support him in his action. Many thousands of Americans in the Services have seen with their own eyes the distress of the people of Europe, and I am sure their experience has fortified their naturally generous sentiments. Here I think the point should be made that there may be a real impediment to effective action by the United States in the possibility of conflict within the American Executive. The structure of the American Constitution is such that it is very easy for a policy approved by the President, or by the Secretary of State, to be whittled away in practice in the passage of the 1481 Measures in which it is expressed through the Departments. The United States has not the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility. May I remind the House of what Lord Bryce wrote on this point?The Administration does not work as a whole. It is not a whole. I t is a group of persons"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
We cannot discuss the American Constitution in this Debate.
§ Mr. Emmott
I wished by a short and relevant quotation only to show why the independence of the separate parts of the Executive Department of the American Government may result in difficulty in executing an agreed policy in its integrity. There is no mistaking the meaning of this Debate. Our duty in this grave and urgent matter is plain. We must spare no effort to discharge it.
§ 8.57 P.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
The whole House will agree that running through the Debate from the very commencement there has been a sense of urgency and concern over the grievous need in the liberated countries of Europe, and a sense of anxiety about the even greater need that will be revealed when the Nazis have departed. It is encouraging that there has been such a large measure of unity. I hope it will strengthen the Government in action and in using the whole influence of this country in the counsels of the Allies to secure the maximum of help to those whose need is so great. I hope it will illuminate public opinion so that the people will be able to realise, from the facts and from the personal experiences of some who have taken part in the Debate, how serious the problem is and how grave is the prospect for European civilisation if we do not take the right action now. We have had a most impressive contribution from my right lion. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), and I hope most earnestly that the Government will give urgent consideration to his proposal for the establishment of something like an economic council for Europe, giving an opportunity to the workers who are engaged in the service of U.N.R.R.A. to render fuller service. No one could cast a stone against that organisation or its directors. We all regret that it has not been given as yet, through circumstances over which it has no control, the oppor- 1482 tunity it longs to have. Other particular suggestions have been made which I hope will also receive careful consideration.
I am sure that the country, when it realises the need, will be ready to go on with rationing, and I believe that a great number will be ready to go on even with decreased rations. It is significant that the Executive Committee of the British Council of Churches which unites representatives of all the Protestant churches in this country, issued a statement only a few days ago saying that they would support and urge their members to support the continuance of rationing and, if necessary, even a reduction of the present rations in order that the Government should be able to carry out this essential work for the, well-being of Europe. I am sure that many besides myself have received letters from individuals saying how gladly they would forego some of their present rations if they could by doing so give further help to those in need. There is no need to make pitiful pictures of the misery and need in Europe to-day. We know that it is there, and we know that we have a duty to fulfil. That noble promise that the Prime Minister made on 20th August, 1940, in this House, which has been twice quoted in the Debate to-clay, brought hope, I feel sure, to many who were suffering under the hardships of Nazi occupation. During all those years mothers and fathers have seen their children underfed. Some of us in this House have tried to persuade the authorities to allow strictly-controlled food supplies to go in for these children. We were told that it was not possible, but that this great relief was coming when once the Nazi domination had been broken. The thought of that, no doubt, gave hope in those dark hours to those who were suffering so greatly. We will surely redeem our promise now and redeem it to the full.
An admirable suggestion has been made as regards the 8,000 lorries that are so badly needed in the countries which have been freed and which are lying here unused because they await repair. If we cannot bring mechanics from France to do the repairs here and take the lorries back, it should be possible to ship a certain number of the lorries and have them repaired in Europe. It should certainly be possible to export spare parts and tools to make it feasible to carry through repairs to the vehicles that are lying derelict in 1483 France. There are a certain number that have been used in relief work, first, under the American Friends' Service Committee in Vichy France, and afterwards under the French Friends' Organisation when America entered the war, which are now unusable because they have not tyres and spare parts. It would mean very little to send what is necessary to set them going. That is only an instance out of many.
There is one way in which we in this country can help with Government support and in which we shall get further support from the Government's promise to-day. A large number of relief workers are hoping to go out for service in Europe, and a number are already working there under the auspices of the Council of British Societies for Relief Abroad. That organisation unites all the societies that are engaged in this service and have corresponding international connections in Europe. The Jewish Society, Catholic Society, Y.W.C.A., Red Cross and Order of St. John, the Friends Relief Service, Friends Ambulance Unit, Salvation Army, International Service for Peace and others are all grouped under this organisation, which is recognised by the British Government. They do deserve and need support. Some of them are already collecting second-hand clothing for export to France and other countries where the need for clothing is so great. That will not be robbing anyone in this country. Free gifts are being made by thousands of people. We ought to give the utmost possible facilities for service of that kind. They desire to have rather more permission than has been granted hitherto to supplement some of the great Government schemes that are going on with additional gifts.
A certain amount of food, for instance, is needed for weaning infants; it can be prepared from non-rationed materials which can be got from a certain company in this country. It is badly wanted by the infants in the South of France, where underfeeding has been very marked for so long. The Government do not disapprove in principle, but decisions come so slowly. Cannot we have some assurance that there will be greater promptness on the part of Government Departments in dealing with requests of this kind from an authorised society speaking in the name of all these relief organisations? It would be of the greatest encouragement to workers 1484 both at home and abroad. These voluntary workers, many of whom had experience in the last war, who are working as volunteers and giving their services from good will, bring a personal touch and a link of friendship to the service of relief which cannot always be given by an efficient but over-worked governmental or inter-governmental machine. We need that human touch. The relief which is so urgently required should not be just doled out mechanically with machine-like efficiency; it should be a sacrament of friendship, binding together the people who have sent it with the people who are getting it, and making them realise, as they must realise if civilisation is to be rebuilt, that we are one family and all members one of another.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
In some of the remarks that I shall make I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who has just finished such an eloquent speech will agree with me. Before I pass to the main theme of my remarks, may I say one thing about France? We have all recently beard people say, "It is all very well to send food to France, but it all goes into the black market. Why don't they do something about it?" That is not quite fair. Apart from the question of supplies, we in this country have had five years of rationing and all the accumulated experience and skill which go into it. In France, on the other hand, the administrative difficulties, apart from the difficulties of supply, must be appalling. It occurred to me, as I saw on the Front Bench my right hon. Friend, now the reigning head of the Food Ministry, to ask whether it would not be a graceful gesture if he offered the services of some of his skilled administrators to France to help them in their difficulties. I do not know, of course, whether it would be welcome or not. I want to speak about another matter which I think would be a practical, and by no means small, contribution to one small sector of this vast and terrible affair. Now that he has come in, I should like to congratulate the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) on initiating this Debate and upon the eloquent, earnest and moving manner in which he put the problem before us. Like him, I have recently been discreetly, and I hope in a proper 1485 manner, making inquiries among people I have met in the official and semi-official world, doing what I call "hunting bottlenecks," and trying to find exactly why this or that is happening or not happening.
I have been addressing my mind especially to this question: Have we got here in these islands any supplies, whether food or not, which we can spare and which are not being transported because of lack of shipping? To that my answer is quite definitely "Yes." My second question is: Is there anything we can do which we are not doing which can remedy that situation? Again, my humble answer is "Yes," that is, if we cease to talk about shipping in the ordinary, conventional sense, and speak rather in the terms of smaller craft. I hate to use that overworked term "Dunkirk," a misleading term in this case because it suggests a single spasmodic operation instead of a continuous service which will last throughout the summer at least. But I do believe that if we use the spirit of Dunkirk, and to a great extent the same vessels, the same technique and the same men, we may do something which we are not doing to restore some of that good will, faith and gratitude which, as we have heard from so many eloquent speakers, are fading away.
Briefly, I propose the formation under the Admiralty, of a Citizen Fleet. We have had citizen armies. This is a citizen fleet. My immediate suggestion to the Government, which I made privately four or five weeks ago, is that they should say to the Admiralty: "This may or may not be a practical thing, but we think there may be something in it. You are to appoint an Admiral to go into the matter, with power to examine and cross-examine all the possible Government Departments concerned." But I must be a little more particular than that. The Admiral placed in charge of this task will have to ask himself four questions. They are: (a) Have we any supplies in these islands which we can spare, whether food or not? (b) Have we craft in which to convey them? (c) Have we the crews to man the craft? Last, but by no means the least important, (d): Assuming we can start a regular service, can we provide facilities for keeping such a fleet in proper seaworthiness and repair?
1486 On the first point I need not long delay. I was assured when I first raised the point, as we have all been assured to-day, that in regard to food there is nothing much more we can do. I agree with the Noble Lord and others, although I appreciate the point of view of the Ministry of Food and the technical reasons which hold them back, that it is a pity if the spirit of "Bundles for Britain" cannot now be turned into "Bundles from Britain" and that some generous gesture might be found possible. But I do not want to press that.
Food, however, is not everything. My information is that there are thousands of tons, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of tons, of other sorts of cargo which are waiting in these islands and are on demand from France and other countries which are not going over because there is not the shipping. My right hon. Friend the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter)—it is so nice to have a Privy Councillor as my junior—said he thought that the shipping problem was perhaps not such an enduring one as the others, and I hope he is right. But it is certain that there are supplies in this country which are not going over because they cannot at this moment be transhipped.
On the second point, it is a basic assumption that we must not interfere with naval and military operations. Therefore I do not think we can look forward to the services of those fine Landing Ships (Tanks) about which we have heard this afternoon, because I think they will be wanted for other things. But I do not see why we could not make use of perhaps some scores of the Landing Craft (Tanks) which have been made in this country. They may not be very good sea boats or be good for manoeuvring in small harbours, but they might be of great use to my scheme. I am not talking about the "Saucy Janes," or "Clara Belles" or "Skylarks." This is a more practical matter. Secondly, is it or is it not the case—this is not a question which it is really fair to present to the Secretary of State for War without notice, and I do not really expect an answer to-night: but it is a question to which my Admiral would address himself—that there are about ten paddle steamers which used to be employed by the Navy but which are now laid up, although they are still earn- 1487 ing fat charter money, doing absolutely nothing? Those ships would be very good for the heavier kind of cargo which is waiting and we should have the advantage that we should be able to use French crews.
I would also, if I could have my way, have a look at those motor fishing vessels, very useful craft that the Admiralty have built in large numbers, first to serve the Navy and then to come back and rehabilitate our fishing industry. Unfortunately, I am told that we cannot have them, because there was some miscalculation at the Armiralty about the number of small craft required for harbour service and attending the Fleet. I am not throwing stones, because it would be a wonder if there were not some miscalculation in these vast affairs. But all these fishing vessels are good sea boats, designed for cargo, perfect for the task I have in mind. I believe they are all being earmarked for operations elsewhere, but since there has been a miscalculation apparently in budgeting for not enough small craft there might be a miscalculation in asking for too much now. If we could have a number of those motor fishing vessels they would be of great use. Fourthly, there is the question of lighters and barges. People may raise their eyebrows when I say that, and say you cannot take barges across the Channel, but that was done on D-Day.
I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that about 1,000 London River lighters were taking cargoes across the Channel. There was a glorious story of a petty officer who was a London River lighterman and who set forth from Portsmouth with his crew. They ran into rought weather, and the engines broke down. He did not know what to do, because such was the degree of security and secrecy that he had not been told to which particular Continent he should direct his course. A corvette offered to tow him back, but the lighterman said: "No, that is not the spirit of the lighter-men of London River. Our tradition is that we do not lay down until we have delivered our craft." So the corvette steamed away and the lighterman said to his men: "I think it is France we are going to. We have the tarpaulin; let's hoist the old tarpaulin and sail across."
1488 So they sailed the old barge across and by the grace of God and a fair wind they hit the American part of the coast of Normandy. That spirit still survives; and many similar craft, I dare say, could be spared from London River to-day. If hon. Members will look out of the window of the smoking-room they will see about 150 London barges. I am told that those are failures and that they would sink if you put any cargo into them, but for all that, my Admiral knows the whole coast is alive with such craft which are not failures. Then I shall be told that there are no tugs to tow them. Tugs are another "bottleneck," to use a favourite term. But tugs are not the only vessels which can tow barges. There are minesweepers solemnly sweeping the whole of this river which might well be spared now to tow some of these barges with supplies across to the other side. It is all very well to laugh at me and say that I have a bee in my bonnet about small vessels, but there is this advantage about small vessels—they can go into small places. They can go up the canals and rivers as far as the first bridge. I saw Dieppe Harbour—and I think the only people who have not received a proper tribute in all these recent events are the people who made these harbours work. If Dieppe is still full of shipping these small vessels could go into Tréport or Fecamp. Number 5 is the very numerous patrol vessels like my own little boat, too small apparently, and too slow. But there are four or five hundred small patrol vessels which have just been laid off. They are coming in by the dozen. Many of them, no doubt, are to small or too unseaworthy; but out of them quite a lot could be found to take to the Continent quite a number of pats of butter or fertilisers or seed potatoes, or whatever it might be.
That is my general picture. I could go on to say a lot more but I must now come to a close. I do not know whether the House realises that as regards the crews my Citizen Fleet is in being at the present time. Perhaps hon. Members have not heard about the Small Vessels Pool runner crews, because they are so modest, and I do not think they have been mentioned in the papers. There are 700 yachtsman, amateur mariners, old colonels and generals, sailing all round the coast, or from Iceland, or Newfoundland—they do not care where they go—bringing small craft to the place where the 1489 Admiralty wants them to be. I am told that we must not take them away from their present task. I do not know. The naval bases are full of men who are doing nothing and are very bored. I do not know why the Navy should not do its own work and surrender these men for the kind of task I am suggesting. But, failing that, let me say this. A few weeks before D-Day there was an appeal from the Admiralty for yachtsmen, and men skilled in the ways of the water, for harbour duties. Four thousand responded. They were sifted and only 2,000 were regarded as "the tops." But if an appeal is made for this sort of task, the greater the appeal the greater the response. I am sure we should be able to main my Citizen Fleet without much difficulty, always, of course, under the Admiralty, which must have control.
Fourthly, there is the question of repairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sixthly."] I say there are four points, supplies, ships, the men and repairs. Believe me it is fourthly, and not quite lastly. I am told that if we provided the spare parts repairs could be done on the other side, as is already being done. That would keep the ships going and the foreigner employed. I am very glad to have been able to put this scheme forward briefly. I put it before the Government four weeks ago. I was told it was impracticable, but on the particular ground that we had not any food to supply, and that what we had we could easily transport. There was no reference whatever to these cargoes waiting on our shores at this moment, and which, unless something is clone, will not be transported across the sea. I am sorry the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here. I shall have to be content with the head of the Army. I hope the Government will go into this matter seriously.
This country has once again been saved by the sea, and by its skill upon the sea, and it is our duty to use our skill upon the sea to the utmost, in order to help the countries who are so unhappy as to have land frontiers with Germany. I am not prepared to say how much tonnage would be involved in this little scheme, but I am perfectly sure that in the scales of what my Noble Friend calls the "psychological considerations," it would weigh very heavily indeed for some of our little boats to be seen coming in with a cargo of razor blades or seed potatoes, or whatever it 1490 might be. It would show the people across the Channel that we do not only embark on great adventures to save our own troops, but that we are prepared to do the same thing to help them. I believe that if we call upon our great genius for organisation, as we have done so brilliantly so often and so recently, if we make an opening for that surge of the spirit which comes so readily from our people when they are well led or nobly challenged, we might once again produce results which would astonish and delight the world.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Oldham)
We have been very fortunate in this Debate in having two excellent speeches from the two Burgesses for Oxford University. I was very taken with the speech of the Senior Burgess (Petty Officer Herbert) advocating a fleet of small craft leaving the Thames Estuary or the Kentish ports—pleasure steamers, landing barges and launches—carrying supplies to Europe. I feel with him that if that small fleet was able in 1940 to carry no fewer than 300,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk under continuous air attack there is something worthy of further study in his suggestion. I was also interested in the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Junior Burgess (Sir A. Salter) concerning the economic reconstruction of Europe. As I listened to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) and other speeches by other Members I could not help being struck by what my Eon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) called the sense of urgency which has permeated this Debate. Through the descriptions of hon. Members we have received a picture of a devastated Continent, of bridges and rails destroyed by retreating Armies, of fields scattered with land mines and entire cities shattered. I cannot help feeling that U.N.R.R.A. is too small and too cramped an instrument to deal with this major problem, particularly so when we realise that the Germans, fortunately for themselves, were able to organise Europe in 1940 as a single entity, for they found not only in France and the Low Countries railways, roads, and bridges comparatively undestroyed, but they were able to organise Europe as a sort of super London Passenger Transport Board, to carry supplies to every part.
1491 Very different was our problem which all Europeans could realise. Our aeroplanes not only smashed locomotives and marshalling yards and various other centres of production but the battle raged in Normandy, the larder of Paris and Northern France. In consequence we find whole areas of France entirely cut off by broken communications. At the same time, as the Prime Minister so vividly pointed out in a recent speech, owing to the longer duration of the war in Europe than was anticipated we found two big loads of shipping overlapping, and the war in the Pacific and the war in Europe placing an undue strain on our shipping resources. What can we do about it? It appears that out of about 3,000,000 tons which the French merchant marine possessed before the war, less than 1,000,000 tons are left. I feel that French shipping in the Allied pool should be released at the earliest possible moment to carry supplies from the rich equatorial provinces of France overseas, to the Western hemisphere. We found also, I believe, that out of something like 6,000 locomotives which France possessed before the war only something like 2,500 were operating after the conquest of France last year. Surely it would be possible to send over craftsmen and supplies to repair some of these locomotives.
France has been dealt with eloquently and at some length by hon. Members today, and, as my time is short, I would like to refer briefly to two other countries. The first of these is Greece. Of all the countries of Europe, perhaps the fate of Greece has been the hardest. When the German conquerors found the obdurate spirit of the people of Greece, they determined to starve and smash and break that spirit by every means in their power. I do not believe that the limited food supplies which the Red Cross was able to get through were able to do much to help. A worse fate was theirs. Not only were the people starved, but those draught animals which the Greeks depend on so much, the donkeys and mules for carrying supplies over the mountain roads, died by thousands. As a result, the Greeks were deprived of their means of livelihood. The Greeks have done much to help us in the Mediterranean. I believe that no less than 80 per cent. of the Greek mercantile marine has been lost in carrying supplies for the Allies. Therefore, Greece demands priority on our resources. Greece 1492 wants also the replacement of those draught animals. I would ask my right hon. Friend to say if the Bulgarians are being pressed to honour the terms of the armistice, and to return some of those animals Which they stole from Greece. I am told also, from a good source, that lorries are entirely lacking in Greece. In the Middle East there are 20,000 lorries which could be used in Greece. The Greek people want two other things: fertilisers, to help their agriculture to revive again, and a supply of tractors.
I pass rapidly from Greece to Italy. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) gave a vivid description of the troubles of Italy. He told how the battle, when it raged in Italy, left behind not only devastation, but broken communications and fields sown with land-mines; and he told us how Italy has been cut in two, the great industrial regions of the North blocked from the South, and the entire economy of the country dislocated. Here in Italy, as in France, Greece, and Belgium, the prime need is lorries. Hon. Members have made it amply clear that this country and the United States have an immense obligation to Europe. We cannot allow Europe to perish. We in this country, as well as being good English, should also be good Europeans. Europe has a tremendous tradition and a tremendous part to play in the world of the future, for in Europe have come together those great traditions, sprung from Greece and the Christian Church, which have made it the finest productive area in the whole world in the arts and science. This creative energy cannot be lost to the modern world; but it will be if Europe is allowed to starve and to sink into civil war. I would ask for energy in dealing with this problem, and I hope that this country and the United States will be able to unify their efforts to save Europe from the situation which my right hon Friend the Member for Oxford University suggests. But it must be done soon if Europe is to be saved.
§ 9.34 P.m.
§ Major C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
This, I think, has been one of the most miserable Debates that I have ever attended in the House of Commons. Speech after speech has been full of woe and distress, except perhaps that of my hon. and 1493 gallant Friend the Member for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert). Very recently I was privileged to visit France for a few days, with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Flight-Lieut. Teeling). We were fortunate indeed, not only to be landed in Paris, but to travel through Normandy, and, in Normandy, through Caen, Lisieux, Falaise and the battlefields of Le Mans down to Bordeaux, and so we were privileged to see a great deal of the French countryside. First, I should like to make a few remarks about the situation in Paris. It has, I think, already been stated in this Debate that the people in Paris are starving, and that, after the defeat of the Germans in France by the Allies, their condition has further deteriorated. Early this year, in January and February, there was no heating, no light, no food, except perhaps leeks, cauliflowers and other vegetables, and the French were existing on mashed vegetables served in cold water. There were no cooking facilities at all and no light. There has been no butter and no milk in Paris for months, and during our stay in Paris we went to visit a school. The legs of the children were past belief—thin, spindly legs, as other hon. Members who saw them can confirm. There is a black market, and there are black market restaurants, and, for the modest sum of about £5, or its equivalent at the present rate of exchange, a good meal can be bought in Paris if you know where to go. The Paris people have no belief in the franc and are perfectly willing to spend the francs they have on anything they can buy.
I want to say a word about Normandy. In Caen, Lisieux and Falaise, there is complete devastation. I have never seen anything like it; it has to be seen to be believed. But, curiously enough, there was more food in Normandy, in spite of the devastation, than there was in Paris, but, even in Normandy, it is getting very short now. The devastation has been so frightful that it has to be seen to be believed, but they have a system of communal feeding and rich and poor alike go into a barn and share the same meals. I want to try to paint a picture, quite clearly and honestly, and I would divide the conditions in France into three different categories. There are areas where there is complete starvation; there are areas where there is sufficient food; and there are areas where there is abundance; and, 1494 on our way down between Normandy and Bordeaux, we came across some of the areas of abundance.
We were also privileged to be the guests of the American Army for one night on our way down from Normandy to Bordeaux. Perhaps I should not say too much about this, but I would like to confirm what the Noble Lord said about American Army rations. We stayed—I think I ought to say this—at an American hotel, or, rather a French hotel requisitioned by the Americans. Our breakfast was served by French waiters. We had seen the starvation of the French in Paris. Our breakfast consisted of tomato juice, porridge and cream, omelette and bacon. Did I hear a remark from the Front Bench? If there was a remark, I am quite willing to give way. I do not want to go into detail—
§ Major Taylor
This was served by French waiters, and they go back to their families and talk about it. The Secretary of State for War calls me "a skunk." He said it under his breath, but I really do believe that we should perhaps be truthful and honest on occasions. Conditions are very similar in Bordeaux and people are starving. There are people in Bordeaux who are in an extremely bad condition. They have been in prison camps for many years now and they are both underfed and poor. I unfortunately heard a story of an English woman who when she received a Red Cross parcel, having been recently released from a German camp, dribbled at the mouth before she could get the Red Cross parcel open. I do not want to be too sentimental about this, but to convey to the House that there are British nationals in France who are badly in need of food.
Just outside Bordeaux, at the mouth of the river, there are a large number of Germans. There are 5,000 Germans on one side of the river mouth and about 7,000 on the other side. In consequence, the Port of Bordeaux cannot be used. I want to know how these Germans at the mouth of that river are fed. I am informed that a lot of their food comes from Spain in trawlers. If it comes from Spain in rum-running trawlers, the British Government should make representations to the Spanish Government to try and stop this export of food from Spain to the 1495 Germans on the West coast of France, and stop those trawlers bartering food for furniture and pictures and everything that the Germans have looted froth the French. I would like to give some of the reasons for the troubles as I saw them in France.
They are, first, a complete lack of transport. They have no beneficent Lord Leathers, no organisation, and no friends of the housewife like the Minister of Food or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food to organise their food supplies for them. Can the Allies help? Apart from humanitarian grounds, we have, surely, strategic reasons for helping France. We want to see our lines of communication preserved and no troubles in France, as there will be unless some help is forthcoming.
I would like to say one final word about the F.F.I., who are containing those Germans on the West coast of France. They have no clothes worthy of the name. They have a motley collection of uniforms some from the last war, in rags and tatters, and surely, an appeal might be made to the Home Guard of this country to give up their uniforms and to ship them over to France, so that some of these gallant troops might be clothed. I support very strongly the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert). I believe that the ships could be made available and that there is stuff in this country and means by which we can help, and, for goodness' sake, let us help now, because to-morrow may be too late.
§ 9.45 P.m.
The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Griģģ)
I cannot imagine a Debate which could have been more worth while than the Debate we have had to-day. It has given us all a great deal of food for thought. The picture painted, almost on every side, has been a sombre one, and very much in contrast with some of the earlier and rather optimistic visions of the post-war world which were handed out to us. The case made by the first two speakers in the Debate was a very formidable one, sombre and formidable. It was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council in the light of his recent mission to France, and perhaps if I try to pick up some of the points which were not covered by the 1496 Lord President—and they will be, for the most part, necessarily points of detail—or some of those raised since my right hon. Friend's speech, it may serve to round off this Debate.
My Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and other hon. Members have referred to the rations of prisoners of war. I must say that I simply do not know in what way the American Armies treat their prisoners of war in France in the matter of rations. I stated our own practice to the House a few days ago. Prisoners who are not in working parties, get the same rations as the British civilians in this country; those who are working get the scale of soldiers at home. I will certainly look into this matter again, and see if we are doing more than the Convention requires of us, but I would like to make it clear that I am quite certain in my own mind that we must strictly observe the Convention. On the other hand, I see no reason whatever for going one inch beyond it.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask a question of my right hon. Friend? I hope I shall not embarrass him. In view of the fact that British troops are serving under an American Commander-in-Chief, and in view of the tremendous moral responsibility we have in this matter, will he ascertain whether it is or is not true that German prisoners in American hands are receiving rations equal to those of American soldiers, and that those rations are seven or eight times the food available to the French civilian population?
Sir J. Griģģ
I have a very limited time and I would like to get this out of the way. I will certainly make inquiries about that. Naturally I shall have to do it with extreme discretion, because, after all, it is no good adopting a Pharasaical attitude over these things.
Then I come to some of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). He paid a tribute to the operation of the Civil Affairs section of the military staffs, and I am very glad that this tribute has been paid because, in times past, not everybody has been so generous. There has been a good 1497 deal of criticism, much of it unfounded, and some of it positively ungenerous. Naturally I personally entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend and I am very grateful to him. Then he mentioned, as did other speakers, the situation in the Mediterranean, and perhaps it would be useful if I gave a very short retrospect of events in this matter of Civil Affairs in the Mediterranean theatre. When the Allied Armies entered Italy they were, as hon. Members have pointed out, faced with a country left in a state of complete devastation, and, what is worse than that, a population shorn of all sense of civil or civic responsibility by many years of Fascist domination and the most slender and inadequate means of subsistence. The degree of destruction imposed upon these hapless people by the Germans on their retreat through Italy was quite beyond any concept of military necessity.
All of this, naturally, means a very heavy burden on the Allied Commander in this theatre. Following closely behind operational areas came A.M.G.O.T., which in those days was critically dealt with in this House and elsewhere, although I am not sure that since then there has not grown up a tendency to regret the halcyon days of A.M.G.O.T. At any rate, it was a combined United Kingdom and United States organisation which was charged with all the immediate problems affecting the civil population. So far as relief was concerned this organisation was, with the corresponding organisations in all other theatres of war, charged to work to a standard calculated to prevent disease and unrest among the population. Apart from that it had the task of preserving law and order in a manner which prevented advancing Armies from being embarrassed by the presence on their long lines of communication of the civil population. Another heavy responsibility of A.M.G.O.T. was the control of the movement of refugees to the rear. As the battle moved forward these responsibilities were assumed by what was then known as, "The Allied Control Commission." This was, again, a joint United Kingdom and United States organisation and this undertook, in conjunction with the Italian Government, the task of co-ordinating the wider aspects of civilian relief. These two organisations were faced with the many 1498 and complex aspects of literally governing areas of the country as they were progressively liberated. But the economic problem of procuring and importing vast tonnages of all types of relief supplies was also a part of their duties. As in the case of North-West Europe, this involved the creation of large stock piles in this theatre of operations, and the problems of distribution in Italy, in the conditions I have just described, can readily be imagined.
The outstanding problem, which was more difficult in Italy than in France, Belgium or Holland, was to encourage local production of food-stuffs and other suitable commodities. What was known in Italy as the "amassment of crops for equitable distribution," in the face of a black market which throve in that country more than in any other parts of Europe, was a task which was no mean one, and there was no easy solution. Nevertheless, a considerable degree of success has been achieved, and to-day Italian agriculture is contributing a substantial proportion to meet the needs of the people. But in considering these measures of military relief—and this is the motif which runs throughout our story of the affairs of liberated Europe—the agreed policy of the Allies is, and must be, to encourage the liberated people to assume responsibility for their own affairs as quickly as possible. I think my noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing insisted that that was a vital criterion of our administration, and I am glad to be able to tell him that that is a definite instruction to all civil affairs officers who go into liberated territories. With this object in view the Allied Commission—the word "Control" has been dropped—have insisted and even urged that the Italian Government should take an ever-increasing share in, and supervision of, their own affairs. That has been carried out progressively until, now, whole areas, districts, provinces, behind the battle line, are in the hands and under the responsibility of the Italian Government. When they require technical assistance the Allied Commission is there to try and supply it. I think that on the whole we may take pride in the measure of independence which we have assured to the Italian Government since the early days of the landings in the toe and the heel of Italy. My hon. and gallant Friend 1499 the Member for Abingdon referred to the problems of Northern Italy which loom ahead. They are indeed very grave problems, and I think it is net an exaggeration to say that those problems far transcend any of those we have hitherto dealt with in the Southern and middle parts of Italy. All I can say at the moment is that plans have been prepared to bring relief to the Northern parts of Italy as promptly as possible. I do not wish for one moment to underestimate the difficulty of carrying out those plans. The area of Northern Italy is much more industrial than the South. There are greater masses of population. I think it is not unreasonable to assume that the destruction wrought by the Germans may be even more devastating in the North than in the South.
Perhaps I may mention briefly another point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon. He exhorted us to learn from the lessons of the Bengal famine. I am glad to be able to tell him that we have used the services of one of the people who had experience of the Bengal famine to assist in the investigations which have been carried out to meet another need which has been stressed in the Debate to-day, namely, the need for predigested food in those areas of the Continent where the people have been suffering so much from under-nutrition that ordinary food is useless to them for some little time.
I come now to the speech of the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert). He asked that we should be prepared to help France and other countries through people who have gained experience of these problems in our own Ministry of Food and kindred Departments. The Government certainly are prepared to contribute to the full from the wealth of our administrative experience in matters of this sort. I think it is not unfair to claim that we do know, after five and a half years of war, how to make the best use of limited supplies of food, and that it is fair to claim that we do know how to distribute and ration food. Whenever we are asked to send officers from the Ministry of Food to help to establish an administration of this sort, we do so. And let me hasten to say that this offer is made not from any arrogance, but from 1500 a genuine desire to help. The Senior Burgess for Oxford University advocated in a very eloquent way his scheme for the use of little ships. I had not previously heard of it, and still less had I heard that his original propounding of this scheme was met by what I believe in music hall parlance is called "the bird." I can tell him that the ideas which he has put forward are being actually examined. There are difficulties, as has already been pointed out in the original answer to his application, but there is a genuine desire to extract any good that may be obtained from his scheme.
Now let me come to the Junior Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). Naturally everyone listens to what he has to say with great attention, because he has unrivalled knowledge of these problems. The first appeal that he made was to give U.N.R.R.A. a chance. I am not quite clear whether I properly understood him. There are certain limitations on the use of U.N.R.R.A., limitations which he deplored but which nevertheless exist. Subject to those limitations, to the best of my knowledge the military authorities here, and I think at Washington, are doing all they can to work U.N.R.R.A. into the picture. In Greece there was to begin with—and it was resumed after hostilities were over—a joint organisation to deal with problems of relief, and we are all now arranging to hand over complete responsibility to U.N.R.R.A. as quickly as possible. As far as displaced persons in Germany are concerned U.N.R.R.A. and S.H.A.E.F. are already working together on plans to deal with this vast and terrible problem, which aims at placing ultimate and complete responsibility upon U.N.R.R.A. For the rest, for those who can afford to pay, U.N.R.R.A. only comes in by invitation, and there cannot be any question of preliminary collaboration with the military. It is entirely a matter for the indigenous Governments. As far as ex-enemy Powers are concerned U.N.R.R.A. is debarred from operating.
§ Earl Winterton
My right hon. Friend is surely not correct in saying that the ultimate responsibility rests with U.N.R.R.A. Ultimate responsibility rests with the inter-Governmental Committee.
Sir J. Griģģ
"Ultimate" is perhaps not the right word. It is "penultimate." 1501 If my right hon. Friend would like me to substitute "penultimate," I am quite ready to do so. To come back to the Junior Member for Oxford University, as far as ex-enemy countries are concerned U.N.R.R.A. is debarred by its charter from operating in them, with the limited exception of Italy. I think the United Kingdom and the United States rather deplore this exclusion; nevertheless, the smaller Powers enforced it against the bigger Powers and there can be no question of collaboration between the military and U.N.R.R.A. in the matter of relief in the ex-enemy countries with the possible exception of Italy. In the case of Italy an exception up to a certain limited financial amount was admitted, and to the hest of my knowledge an arrangement has been or is on the point of being arrived at between U.N.R.R.A. and the Italian Government, and to operate this extension of their functions the military and U.N.R.R.A. are, I think, in touch as regards Italy.
My right hon. Friend referred to the use of shipping for the liberated countries. I have not the time, and I am afraid I have not the knowledge, to deal fully with his remarks on a subject on which he is not only a past, but a present master. I can assure him of one thing, that plans are definitely under consideration by the United States and the United Kingdom shipping and supply authorities concerned, and with U.N.R.R.A., with a view to taking full advantage of any shipping which becomes surplus, as a result of the German defeat taking place earlier than is calculated, or earlier than is assumed for purposes of planning.
What then is the main lesson of this Debate? I think it is not unfair to say that the lesson is that we are faced with a problem of which it is impossible to over-estimate the gravity. I would claim that the military, who have a limited function in this matter, have done, are doing, and, I think I can very nearly guarantee will continue to do the part which has been assigned to them, and that is to prevent disease and unrest in the immediate wake of the armies. Even this limited objective means very large demands on world resources. After the military period come the heavier problems of reconstruction, and on this, as I said 1502 at the beginning of my remarks, I am quite sure that the Debate has given us all food for the most serious thought. The Junior Burgess for Oxford University and many other Members have said that we shall find a scorched earth practically all over Europe. Certainly we shall find a situation which will tax all our ingenuity and resource. It may be that the proper way to deal with this, as the right hon. Gentleman the Junior Burgess for Oxford University said, is to set up a reconstruction council and that this subject should be early on the agenda for the Peace Conference. Certainly this is a matter on which His Majesty's Government will take note of the opinions which have been expressed in the Debate.
May I, in all humility, utter a word of warning here? When we reflect on the magnitude of the future misery which may be in store for Europe, we should beware lest we accept too lightly, or seem to accept too lightly, any suggestion that we or our Allies are responsible. Let us never by unnecessary mutual recriminations get ourselves into a position in which the responsibility for what may be a very dreadful state of affairs can be fastened on us. The responsibility rests, and must rest, firmly upon the Axis Powers, and primarily upon Germany. Germany it was who precipitated the world into this gigantic conflict. Germany it was who grabbed everything which could be grabbed from the countries which she has occupied. Germany it was who, when she was finally turned out of those countries, pillaged and destroyed on a scale far beyond military necessity, or under military expediency. The hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) likened Hitler to some Samson, pulling down the temple of Dagon upon enemy and friend alike, or to somebody who was determined to produce in Europe a "Twilight of the Gods." Whether that be so or not, it is Germany who, by her wantonness in destruction over wide areas, has almost rendered impossible that civilisation and ordered life which is the mark of modern society. Germany it is who has sought to plunge the world back into the misery and hopelessness of the Dark Ages. Germany, and the whole world must never be 1503 allowed to forget her responsibility, and above all, Germany must never get into a position in which she will be capable of perpetrating these horrors for the third time.
A final word about the position of this country. The Lord President of the Council dealt with it very fully. Our ration scales are not large. The hon. lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), for what purpose I do not know, said: "Look at the amount of food outside the ration, that can be obtained in this country." She might be interested to know that the quantity of food consumed outside the home is not more than 19 per cent. of the whole, and that the quantity of food consumed in luxury restaurants is not more than one-fifth of one per cent. of the total; so that the rations are, broadly, a measure of the standards of consumption in this country.
People can buy things in addition to their rations. The point is that you can supplement—for meat, buy fish; for tea, buy coffee, and so on.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Those who have to live in working-class homes know how difficult it is to carry on, even with supplementary rations.
Sir J. Griģģ
Our people have been in this war longer than anybody else, except the Germans and the Poles. Many of them have been subject to bombardment for a considerable part of the five and a half years that the war has lasted. We are still going all out on war production and we are mobilised for blood and sweat as no nation, except possibly the Germans, under their present desperation, have ever been mobilised before. Our reserves are, as has been pointed out, at the bare minima necessary to carry on distribution without interruption. This is a very powerful argument.
On the other hand let us beware of calling with undue stridency for further sacrifices from those who have been so generous to us in our need. A good case can be ruined by bad, or unfair advocacy. Obviously, a situation which is so fraught with possible misery calls for the most urgent review, and that is why the Minister of Production and the Minister 1504 of Food have gone to Washington. Obviously, as has been pointed out, overproduction, extravagance and waste should be cut out, but when all that has been done, we cannot escape the horrible conclusion that in the months immediately ahead of us, millions of people will go hungry and great numbers will suffer deep privation. We, in the more fortunate countries, ought to do all we can to help. His Majesty's Government will do all in their power. The only question is: What is the limitation on our power after 5½ years of war?
Mr. Driberģ (Maldon)
Before he resumes his seat, would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the allegation that was made that the German troops in the West of France are being provisioned from Spain? If that is so, would he ask the Foreign Secretary to make representations?
Sir J. Griģģ
I do not think that that is a sphere which has anything to do with the British Government.
§ Commander Prior
Have British prisoners of war in Germany received the same rations as the Germany Army?
Sir J. Griģģ
The Convention requires that they should receive the same rations as depot troops. Speaking from memory—I would like to verify it—I do not think we have ever been able to establish that they have been given smaller rations than the troops who are actually guarding them.
The Secretary of State for War has just said he did not think it was within the sphere of the British Government that German troops, still holding out in the West of France, presumably for the purpose of continuing the war to the best of their ability, should be provisioned from Spain—
§ It being a quarter-past Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Gary.]
I apologise for detaining the House for a moment longer, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether 1505 he is aware of the position I have mentioned?
Sir J. Griģģ
I only meant to say that I could not possibly be aware, because this particular area is not in a zone for which the British Army and the British Government are responsible. I do not wish, at this moment, to go beyond that.
If the right hon. Gentleman finds, on investigation, that German troops who are still presumably trying to 1506 fight to the best of their ability, are being provisioned from Spain, will he ask the Foreign Secretary to make representations about that to the Spanish Government?
Sir J. Griģģ
The Foreign Secretary will, no doubt, see the Debate to-morrow, and will take whatever action he may think proper.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Sixteen Minutes after Ten o'Clock.