HC Deb 10 October 1945 vol 414 cc360-70

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

May I, in a brief moment before the House adjourns, offer the congratulations of the House to the Minister on his maiden speech at that Box? It was a very much better one than I could have made if I had had the opportunity of making my maiden speech at that Box though mine would have been a better effort had I had the aid of the Box. We all appreciate his performance to-night and realise what a great success he has made on his first effort in this House.

I sought the Adjournment of the House to-night in order to raise what seems to many of us a very vital question of international importance. It has been recently announced in the Press in this country that some 4,500,000 persons are to be expelled from Eastern Europe.

It being a Quarter past Nine 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. Mathers.]

Mr. Stokes

I was saying that it has been recently announced in the Press that some 4,500,000 Germans from Eastern Europe are to be expelled from that territory, commencing on Monday next, at the rate of some 30,000 a day. I do not wish in any way to anticipate a debate, which, I hope, is likely to take place in the comparatively near future on the broad issue of the situation in Germany, and therefore I propose to confine my remarks as briefly as possible to the plain issue of the announcement which is being made, and which purports to come, as far as my investigations go, from the German refugee organisation in Berlin, which has published these figures with the approval of Marshal Zhukov. What is precisely proposed is that, as and from Monday next—that is why there is urgency in raising this in the House to-night, because I think all Members will agree the Adjournment half-hour is not the appropriate moment to raise such an important issue—20,000 Germans will be expelled from Poland every day, 6,000 from Czechoslovakia, and a smaller number from Hungary and other places. The approximate figure for the purposes of simple arithmetic—and this House hates figures—will be of the order of 30,000 a day. The total stipulated in the report is that 4,500,000 persons are to be expelled from their natural homesteads, starting on 15th October, 1945.

What does that mean in human misery? It means that for 150 days after next Monday, every day 30,000 people are to be driven from what they regard as their natural homes and compelled to walk across Europe, trying to find habitation and asylum elsewhere. I do not know where to lay the blame and indeed I do not seek to-night to try and do that. My appeal is fourfold, and it is the appeal, I think, of every hon. and right hon. Member who thinks like me, and of every right thinking person in this country. His Majesty's Government should do everything in their power to stop this ghastly process taking place, first of all, on humanitarian grounds. The horror that it is going to bring to literally millions of comparatively innocent people, though you cannot regard them all as absolutely innocent, simply baffles imagination. Secondly, it is a great mistake to think that the question of immediate retaliation on the Nazis comes in. As can be so easily shown, those who were responsible went away a long time ago. A great number of them, from the information we have received, have fled and are probably now, under other names and in other conditions, seeking refuge and getting much better treatment than they ever dreamed of getting even as far west as our own zone in Germany. The terrible thing is that it is the innocent people who, in the main, will suffer under this system.

The third reason, which I wish to develop later at greater length, is that, so far as I understood the Potsdam Conference, this is entirely in contravention of the Declaration of the Three Powers at that great Conference. Finally, I wish to record the belief that it is going to make—and it is perhaps a rather cold-blooded but nevertheless important issue—the position in Western Europe even more difficult than it is at the present time, and heaven knows that it is just about as difficult as any situation ever created by mankind. On the humanitarian side, one can tell the most heartbreaking stories of what is happening. I had a visit yesterday from a young flying-officer of the R.A.F. who had recently been in Czechoslovakia. He was wearing the R.A.F. uniform, covered with ribbons, the D.F.C. and Bar and so on, and I asked him, "How did you do it?" He replied, "I am really a Sudeten German, but I am an anti-Nazi. I got in and saw precisely for myself what was going on." I have not the time to develop this theme to-night, because the Minister must have time to reply and there are other hon. Members who would like to speak. This officer said, "The pitiable situation is that people are being taken out of the anti-Nazi camps formed by the Nazis and marched off into the Czech camps and turned into slaves. It is not as if families are turned out wholesale and told to march to the west. If that happened—not that there would be any merit in it—it would be a little better, but the young and able-bodied are taken away to slave camps in the centre of Czechoslovakia and the old women, children and old men are turned out with practically nothing—simply told to get out and march west. I do not need to develop that point, because the House will realise what a terrible state of things is going on. This officer told me that he went to his own town, where 48,000 inhabitants had existed before and where he was a Social Democrat, and where there are now only 8,000 left. "My own homestead has gone," he told me. I speak with the greatest responsibility and will give the Minister the name of this officer, who will tell him all the facts. He told me, "All the people I knew as utterly opposed to the Nazis are now being treated in the most inhumane manner by the Czech Government."

I leave it at that, because that theme can be developed on a larger scale on another occasion, and I turn to the Potsdam Conference to look up what was decided there. I cannot do better than read two essential extracts from the report published on 3rd August 1945 in the "Manchester Guardian." That report, speaking of the Three Powers, said this: They agree that any transfers that take place shall be effected in an orderly and humane manner. Now, who, in the name of all that is truthful and serious, can suggest that to start to drive 30,000 people a day out over 150 days from east to west in Europe in the middle of winter is dealing with them in a "humane and orderly manner"? It went on to say this—and I say this without any passion whatever: The Czechoslovak Government, the Polish Provisional Government, and the Control Council in Hungary are at the same time being informed of the above declaration and are being requested meanwhile to suspend further expulsions pending the examination by the Governments concerned of the report from the representatives on the Control Council. So far as we know there has been no report from the Control Council. All that we do know is that there is an intense feeling everwhere that the horrible thing should not be allowed to go on in Europe during this winter, and I am sure it was the intention of the persons who signed the Potsdam Conference Declaration on behalf of the great nations that this horror should not be perpetrated in Europe.

To turn to another aspect of it, what is the position in the Allied Zones? We are told that 4,500,000 persons in the next 150 days are to be driven out of Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary into the Russian Occupied Zone in Germany. We are already in such a mess over the muddle there that we hardly know what to do. We have already agreed to take 2,000,000 more persons in our Zone than ever we anticipated having to take, and the deplorable stories of what is happening at the Berlin railway stations, and so on, would make everybody in this country rise in revolt if they really knew the truth. I listened to a gentleman the other night who had witnessed for himself what was happening at the Anhalter railway station in Berlin—

Mr. Scollan

Is it as bad as Belsen?

Mr. Stokes

Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me finish. I am sure he feels very strongly, just as I do on this subject. It is unbelievable to me that these things can be allowed to happen without the loudest possible protest in this House, and that is why I am speaking to-night. He told me what was happening. People pouring into Berlin, not wanted, no room for them, no food, nowhere to put them, and so, whilst they are allowed to stay for 24 hours, they immediately have to evacuate to the West. What happens? At the Anhalter railway station, which apparently leads to the west and north-west, is found this state of things: the station has been so bombed that it is impossible to control the people on the platforms, so they are herded into a side street. He told me, and a large public audience, that it takes four days—not four hours—to get from the back of the queue into the train, with nothing to eat meanwhile. A perfectly deplorable condition already exists. What is going to happen if this new proposal for 4,500,000 evacuations is allowed to take place is that it will accentuate that condition and perpetuate it throughout the winter months.

I speak simply as an ordinary person who has had some experience of war. I am sometimes accused of being pro-German; it is not true, I am simply pro-humanitarian. I have killed more Germans than possibly anybody in this House, but that is enough of that. The fact remains that this suicidal policy, this terrible policy, is being allowed to go on in Europe with insufficient protest from people who really hold the beliefs that we all hold in this country and the principles for which we really believe we fought this war. What will happen if we allow this to go on without protest is simply this: we shall sow these very seeds which will bring about another war—I do not know when, but in the not too distant future.

There is no sense in believing that simply because we are in a mess at the present time we should allow this sort of thing to go on without protest. The paradoxical situation to me is this, that the very people to whom we have given asylum in this country are now perpetrat- ing these horrors in central Europe. It is unbelievable, but it is true, and it is time that protest went out from this country. I know perfectly well that there are differences of view as to what is to be done with enemy peoples, but I take my mind to the very simple issue, which is that women and children are women and children wherever they are, in whatever country they reside, and I could not sit down to-day without having raised my voice in protest and asking that His Majesty's Government shall use whatever power they can, and make whatever protest they can, in whatever quarter they choose—and I am not seeking to lay the blame in any particular quarter—to represent to their friends in Russia, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia and in Hungary that this thing must stop, because if it does not stop it will be damnation for civilisation.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Boothby ( Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

I rise for only three minutes to support, in a few words, the eloquent plea which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), and I do so mainly because I feel that there has been something in the nature of a conspiracy of silence upon this matter upon both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in the United States as well as in this country. Terrible things are going on in Europe to-day, to-night, every day and every night. The easy course is for us to avert our eyes, and that is the course that I think we have taken on the whole. The result can only be famine and pestilence and, as my hon. Friend so rightly pointed out, misery.

Nobody realises more clearly than I do that the high aspirations expressed in the Atlantic Charter have long ago gone by the board, but few can have thought, even a year ago, that we were fighting this war in order to turn Central and Eastern Europe into a desert containing a decimated population. That is what is happening to-day. I read that at the moment the United States are considering cutting down food shipments to Europe. I cannot understand it. I feel that we are now drifting—largely because of political events which have no immediate connection with the subject we are discussing—into a situation which is fraught with the gravest danger. The last time I spoke in this House I said that events of the last five years had perhaps inevitably seared the conscience and blunted the compassion of humanity. That is true, but there are limits, and I think those limits have been reached at the present time. I urge His Majesty's Government to do something, if only to make a public protest against what is going on now, because it is not in accordance with the traditions or wishes of the vast mass of the people of this country.

9.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. McNeil)

Although I am very much indebted to my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) for giving me this opportunity of making a short statement on behalf of the Government, I want to repudiate utterly the suggestion that there has been a conspiracy of silence on this subject by the Government. That is not so, as I think I shall be able to show to the House. Everyone must have been arrested by the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. It is, as he said, impossible to over paint the potential gravity of this situation or to over-emphasise the misery and great suffering which we may see in Central and Eastern Europe this winter. But I cannot quite accept the suggestion that these are comparatively innocent people. They are Germans and either through their rulers or themselves they visited on Poles, Czechs, Russians and on Christians, as well as Jews, monstrous cruelties—

Mrs. Manning (Epping)


Mr. McNeil

I wish it were so simple just to draw a line and say, "They are babies," and, "They are Nazis." I wish it was so simple as to say, "They are people who were in the fight," and, "They are people who took no part in it." Unfortunately, that is not so. It is suggested that the Government are not most concerned with this subject—

Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)

What are the Government doing?

Mr. McNeil

Perhaps I shall be able, if I am permitted, to say what we are doing. No one in this House can escape the consequences. We are partners to the decisions. I want to deal with a newspaper report my hon. Friend quoted, but, as I indicated when we were speaking previously, it is not possible to give very accurate figures. I would agree that for Czechoslovakia there probably are some 2,250,000 to 2,500,000 people concerned; in Hungary, perhaps, not as many as 500,000, but in Poland, I very much fear the figure will prove to be in excess of 10,000,000 souls. About the figures my hon. Friend quoted and the newspaper sources to which he referred, up to date the control commission has no knowledge of the agreement to which he referred between the Russians, Poles, Czechs and Hungarians. That was what the hon. Member quoted from "The Times" of 8th October. The second of these reports that 2,000,000 Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia are to be received into the British zone at the beginning of this month, to which my hon. Friend also referred, is, I must say, without qualification, speculative. This Government has in fact given no such undertaking to any one that we would accept these 2,000,000 people. Of course, although the Government are not directly or exclusively responsible for this condition, it is true that we are indirectly responsible, and it is very true that we have made repeated representations upon this subject. I think the House would like to be reminded of some which we have made. As the hon. Member for Ipswich quoted so aptly, at Potsdam it was agreed that the transfer to Germany of German populations or elements thereof remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary will have to be undertaken, and that any transfers that took place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner. The Allied Control Council in Germany, should in the first instance, examine the problem with special regard to the equitable distribution of these Germans among the several zones of occupation. At the same time, the Czechoslovak and Polish Governments and the Control Council in Hungary were requested to suspend their expulsions, pending examination by the Governments concerned of the report of their representatives on the Control Council. I greatly regret that this report has not yet been made. I understand that a report, covering part of the field, may be available, but, again I very much regret that I cannot go past that. It just may be available and will only cover part of the problem.

Mr. Stokes

Have His Majesty's Government got any knowledge whatsoever of the declaration made in Berlin that 30,000 people a day, as from next Monday, are to be expelled from this territory?

Mr. McNeil

I have already indicated to the hon. Member that the report from which he quoted does not lie within the knowledge of His Majesty's Government. I want also to make this plain, if I may refer again to the point raised, that following the representations made at Potsdam the Czechoslovak Government did, in principle, at any rate, suspend these expulsions.

Mr. Boothby

What does "in principle" mean?

Mr. McNeil

Well, as I am sure the hon. Member knows, it is very difficult to get exact information on this subject. I do want to make it plain that the Czechoslovak Government did most earnestly attempt to co-operate in this matter and the Hungarian Government numerically was not so substantially concerned. But despite repeated protests by His Majesty's Government, I am afraid I have to admit that there is no similar picture that can be drawn for Poland.

Some expulsions went on unchecked after Potsdam and other migrations, which I do not think can be legally described as expulsions, but migrations nevertheless, continued to take place. His Majesty's Government remonstrated directly with the Polish Government and at the Council of Foreign Ministers. My right hon. Friend appealed through M. Molotov, M. Bidault and Mr. Byrnes to their respective Governments to make the strongest approaches to the Polish Government on this subject. I wish I had time to quote the letter but I hope the House will believe me that it was blunt and direct upon this subject. We pleaded with all the earnestness my right hon. Friend could command.

I wish to state this one other fact. As recently as 1st October the new Polish Ambassador came to the Foreign Office, and in course of conversations he said that on instructions from his Government strict orders were given to stop all further expulsions of Germans from Polish-occupied territory. Again I do not want to mislead the House. Obviously, if there is any substance, even remote substance in the figures quoted by my hon. Friend, it makes nonsense of this assurance. But what more can His Majesty's Government do immediately beyond this? At any rate I wish earnestly to repudiate that there has been any conspiracy of silence or that the Government is not gravely concerned in this matter. It has made repeated and strong remonstrances on the subject.

I have two other things to say. Conditions in the Russian area are the responsibility of the Russian Government. As my hon. Friends know, the Russian Government, as they were quite entitled to do, hare not invited U.N.R.R.A. to take part in relief in their zone. His Majesty's Government are considering what further relief measures we could undertake inside our own zone. I have only this qualification to make. Our area has been the most heavily bombed one. It is a most intense trouble to find even roofs, and we must leave it to the military authorities as to how many can be taken into our zone, at what rate and how soon. It would be no kindness to take in these poor people if we cannot in fact provide that.

I conclude by assuring the House that the Government are fully seized of this problem, that we will continue to take all measures upon the subject that lie within our competence. We are grateful to my hon. Friend, not only for giving us this opportunity of making our position plain but for bringing once more to the attention of the House what we have to admit may prove to be a catastrophe which has not been paralleled in Europe for centuries.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes to Ten o'Clock.