HC Deb 07 June 1946 vol 423 cc2368-96

2.20 p.m.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

Before I begin to talk about U.N.R.R.A. may I say how delighted I am to see that the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) has " seen the light ", and changed his views? His presence on the benches on this side of the House is a refreshing change.

I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about U.N.R.R.A. I should apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs because, unfortunately, I did not let him know until late last night the points which I was going to raise, and I hope that he will forgive me. The subject of U.N.R.R.A. was brought up in November, 1945, by the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir Arthur Salter), who was supported by the hon, Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). Such an unusual combination makes me quite certain that U.N.R.R.A. is not a party issue. I do not intend, this afternoon, to speak on party lines, because I do not think that it is a party problem—it is an international problem. Obviously, it is unlike such subjects as nationalisation, where then:: are two schools of thought, because we, on this side of the House, do not believe in nationalisation and the great centralisation of power in the same way as hon. Gentlemen opposite do. I shall be grateful, therefore, if my remarks are not interpreted in a party spirit. Now my knowledge of the subject is not comparable to that of the Senior Burgess for Oxford University, and the only reason I am raising it is because of personal experiences which I had in Italy in May of this year. When I went to Italy, I found that there was certain unrationed goods. It may be within the recollection of the House that I put down a Question on 1st May, asking the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the appeal of U.N.R.R.A. for heavier importations of wheat into Italy, if he had any information as to, what foods were rationed that country. The reply was, "Yes, Sir," and various details were given, including the fact that the ration of edible fats per month was six ounces. I had, however, purchased butter and cheese in unlimited quantities in Italy at reasonable prices, and not on the black market. The Minister of State promised to look into the matter again. I then received a letter from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs which. perhaps, I may quote. He said: Meat, cheese and butter are not at present rationed in Italy, and can, as you state, be easily bought in the shops. Meat costs about 450 lire, cheese 400 lire and butter 700 lire per kilo. These prices, of course, are beyond the reach of the poorer consumers. Then he went on to give an explanation of why they could not be rationed. My point was that if cheese could be rationed in this country, it should be rationed in Italy, and that aroused my interest in U.N.R.R.A. to see if I could find out why it was not rationed in Italy.

Before I give to the House the results of some of my investigations into U.N.R.R.A"I would like to start with the fact that I consider that their administrative problems have been very great indeed. U.N.R.R.A. really started its life in September, 1941, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) summoned tile Allied Governments to St. James's, and they passed various Resolutions, one of which was that their common aim was to secure that supplies of food, materials, and articles of primary necessity should be made available to the post-war communities of countries liberated from Nazi oppression. In the spring of 1943, a report was produced, and in November, 1943, an agreement was signed. In December, 1943, the first meeting took place at Atlantic City Although U.N.R.R.A. was set up in September, 1941, they had had difficulties because of the civil affairs staff who did not transfer some of their duties to U.N.R.R.A. until April, 1945. Any criticism of U.N.R.R.A. roust surely take into account the fact that their policy is a good one, and that it had taken from September, 1941, to April, 1945, before they had a chance of operating it. Their policy, I think, has the complete sympathy of the House in all quarters. I want to make some constructive criticism, not a violent attack on U.N.R.R.A. because that would be the last thing I would want to do because of my own experience. They may be practicable or they may not and perhaps the Under-Secretary will give his reasons for not adopting them if he thinks that they are not practicable.

Firstly, I think that there should be a better control of rationing both in the countries that receive food and the countries that produce food. If cheese and butter are unrationed in Italy and obtainable at reasonable prices and in unlimited quantities then all is not well with the administration. I find from a pamphlet which U.N.R.R.A. has prepared on Italy that in the summer of 1944 they sent an Observers' Mission; in September, 1944, they promised limited help and medical supplies only: in March, 1945, they extended their help to displaced persons and in August, 1945, they promised full scale relief to start on the 1st January, 1946. Full scale relief according to this pamphlet was not quite as much as it should have been as far as some commodities are concerned. But so far as dairy produce is concerned U.N.R.R.A. shipped to Italy 18,000 tons during December, 1945. How can that be reconciled with the fact that certain dairy produce is being sold unrationed in the Italian shops—and I can assure the Under-Secretary that the ordinary working class and peasant class are buying them? I have seen them in the shops myself and I also purchased a little myself. I want the Under-Secretary to realise that this is not secondhand information because I actually saw the thing happen. At the same time, the Minister of Food reduced our cheese ration from three ounces to two ounces. I think that illustrates that somewhere and somehow price control and rationing should be tightened in the administration either by U.N.R.R.A. or the Italian Government. I am supported in that contention by Mr. Lehman, who was then Director-General of U.N.R.R.A., who, when speaking at Atlantic City, in March, 1946, said: Basically these recommendations called for still greater conservation of food in every country, a strengthening of controls, fair distribution of available food, and improved ad. ministrative machinery. Surely, therefore, there can be no doubt that controls could and should be tightened a little. So far as producing countries are concerned' the devastation that has been caused in the receiving countries is not realised. A person thousands of miles away from the site of the battle cannot realise what has happened to the communications and how difficult it is for the Governments of the receiving countries to get control over their citizens and over rationing. Greater efforts should be made particularly regarding publicity in the producing countries covering the difficulties of the receiving countries. I think that the sympathy of the public in the producing countries could be obtained if publicity on the right lines were introduced. At the present time publicity seems to be more concerned with the black market on the Continent and that is not the desirable type of publicity which is required if the producing countries are to make greater efforts. U.N.R.R.A. has undoubtedly made mistakes as indeed we all have but I think that, broadly speaking, they have done a jolly good job of work on the Continent for which they ought to be given full credit. The point is this: They are not being given full credit at the moment because there is not sufficient publicity in this country or in America. So much for the producing countries.

To turn to the receiving countries, the chief snag there in countries such as Italy and Yugoslavia is the fact that a reborn Government has a great desire to assert itself. This is true of Governments in all countries once they are elected or appointed and there is a great natural desire to impose their will on the citizens and to organise their own country, I think they have to realise that if they ask for food they must see that there are going to be fair shares for all and that during the present food crisis they will have to accept a tighter control by some sort of international body. In Italy, for example, U.N.R.R.A. provides the food and the Italian Government attend to the distribution, but quite honestly the Italian Government has not the administrative machinery at the moment to attend to that distribution in a really fair manner, and propaganda should be distributed or, if necessary, directions should be given to the receiving countries that they have to see that fair shares for all are granted in food received from U.N.R.R.A. or that otherwise U.N.R.R.A. must step in and carry out distribution themselves.[Interruption.] It may be a big job but is it not better that food from a producing country should be distributed fairly in the receiving country?

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

I was not criticising my hon. Friend but I merely remarked that it was an impossible job because it means taking over the whole administration of the country.

Mr. Marples

It does not necessarily mean taking over the whole of the administration; they could have stricter control and supervision. At present the supervision is very lax but they could improve this without actually taking over themselves. They could issue rules and orders; but if these were to be enforced they would have to originate from a higher level than U.N.R.R.A., and any order of that kind would have to come from an organisation such as U.N.O. I do not think that U.N.R.R.A. itself has the power to ask for new powers but perhaps the Under-Secretary could take the initiative with U.N.O. to make sure that these foods are distributed fairly and I think that if he did there would be greater sympathy in the countries which produce food.

The next point with regard to the receiving countries is the question of indigenous foods, and any food which is produced in a country should be rationed in addition to rationing the food brought in by U.N.R.R.A. I was informed in Northern Italy that they had a tremendous amount of dairy produce which they were producing themselves in certain parts, and that the reason for the plentiful supply of butter and cheese in the shops was the fact that they were not going to ration their own goods but only those coming in via U.N.R.R.A. Of course, that was not official information but merely gossip passed on, and I in turn pass it on to the Under-Secretary for what it is worth.

I think that during the U.N.R.R.A. Debates in America—which I have read very carefully since putting down this subject for the Adjournment Motion —the Delegates from the producing countries mentioned the fact that indigenous foods were not rationed as they might be. This was the thread running through their speeches, and they were complaining about it. Surely this Government should take up the lead—on moral grounds we are entitled to take a lead of that sort—to see that the control is improved in the producing countries, in order to make sure that more is available; and to make representations that the control in the receiving countries should be such that the producing countries may be satisfied that food is distributed fairly; and, in fact, see that food is distributed in the receiving countries.

Another criticism concerns the question of the future of U.N.R.R.A. At the present moment U.N.R.R.A. is due to die a natural death at the end of this year and I am going to produce four reasons why I think that should not be. The first is the question of food, and on this again Mr. Lehman states in his statement which he made in March of this year: Mr. Hoover was reported in Paris as expressing his opinion that the present crisis would end with the arrival of the new harvest in Europe. On the evidence available to U.N.R.R.A. on this subject I believe the reported views both of the Secretary of Agriculture and Mr. Hoover do not recognise the full scale of the emergency with which the United Nations are faced. We have absolutely no right at the present time to plan on any basis other than that the situation next winter may be even worse than the present crisis. That is what Mr. Lehman said, so I think we can take it as being fairly certain that on grounds of relief—that is food for starving people in Europe—it is very necessary that U.N.R.R.A. or some such similar organisation should continue.

The second argument in favour of U.N.R.R.A. continuing is the question of rehabilitation, that is to say, the restarting of the economic life in Europe. Who, in this House, can say that the Ruhr will be in a fit state for production at the end of 1946 with all the communications in Europe smashed and disagreement, to put it mildly, between the Eastern and Western zones in Germany alone? How can the economy of Europe he restarted by the end of 1946? It just is not possible, and on these grounds of rehabilitation U.N.R.R.A. or some similar organisation should be continued after the end of 1946.

I now come to the third and the most important reason why U.N.R.R.A. should continue, and I refer to the question of displaced persons. U.N.R.R.A. looked after these people from the moment they were uncovered by our advancing armies, and looked after them to the best of their ability in very difficult circumstances. At the present time U.N.R.R.A.'s rather large staff is reasonably well deployed and is still looking after displaced persons, again to the best of its ability, but it is, disturbing to hear that because the end of U.N.R.R.A. has been pronounced there is a reduction being made in some of the staff, which will certainly not help the displaced persons at all. The reduction would be all right providing a final settlement of the displaced persons problem was reached, but so far there has been no signs of a settlement, and the majority of the displaced persons concerned are still in camp.

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

Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the majority of these persons are still in camps?

Mr. Marples

At least they are still in Europe, and in the case of the Jews, for example, there is no sign of a solution to the problem of their settlement at the present moment. If U.N.R.R.A. came to an end at the end of 1946, who on earth would look after them? Presumably, the cost would fall upon this country in our own zone and ultimately upon the taxpayer once more, in addition to the £80 million already provided. It seems clear that as the political situation in Europe is developing the displaced person problem is going to be a long drawn-out job. That being so, it provides a third reason why U.N.R.R.A. should not come to an end in 1946. The Under-Secretary knows more about this than I do because he was the chairman of the sub-committee set up by U.N.O. on the question of refugees. I believe that their report recommended that a new body should be set up to look after displaced persons, but the report has to go before U.N.O., I imagine, and it will be some time before a decision is reached as to whether a new organisation should be set up or not. Even if a new organisation is started at the end of September it will be quite impossible for it to be efficient by the end of the year. It is no use therefore disposing of U.N.R.R.A. until such time as there is another organisation to come in and take its place—and any such organisation must be efficient, its personnel will have to be trained, and so on. The question of displaced persons is the most powerful and pertinent argument for the retention of U.N.R.R.A. after the end of 1946.

My fourth argument is that the administration of U.N.R.R.A. has had a tremendous number of teething troubles, as indeed every new business has, but they have a certain efficiency now—not efficiency from an absolute point of view, but relatively it is an efficient machine and it would be a tragedy to destroy that machine and have nothing efficient to put in its place To summarise, I think that at any rate the uncertainty regarding the future of U.N.R.R.A. should be removed and some positive contribution made by this country either in suggesting that U N.R.R.A. continues or that a new organisation takes its place to take over the personnel of U.N.R.R.A. in a smooth manner.

I turn to the question of U.N.R.R.A. staff. In the early days of war the Personnel of U.N.R.R.A. and their standard of training were not too high. The Secretary of State, in the Debate in November, admitted as much. Then the higher level of administration became much better, because very distinguished people were borrowed from various Ministries as and when they became available. There was also a certain improvement in the lower level of administration. -But at present in peacetime U.N.R R.A. provides merely a blind alley job. There is no pension and, so far as I know, there is no job following afterwards. That being so, how do the Government reconcile the fact that they want efficient people with the lack of social security? The Government and the Labour Party have, rightly, made a great point about the security of employees, but those employed by U.N.R.R.A. have no security of any sort. As the Royal Air Force would say, "There is no future in it."The Government should come out with the scheme for U.N.R.R.A.'s staff, so that they would know that their future is provided for and would then become reasonably efficient.

I would now like to say a few words about publicity, which was also recommended by Mr. Lehman in March last. When I first went into the Army we used to have to move a whole unit numbering perhaps 300 men from one site to another. A magnificent scheme was prepared in the officers' mess, but only three people knew about it, and the other 297 did not. The cooks would go to one site, the food to another while the soyer stoves remained behind and complete confusion would reign. I am glad to note that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) agrees with me; he has probably had some of it, as I have. The moment I began to go short of food I thought there had better be an alteration, so the whole unit was gathered together and the information was spread around. Everyone knew what was happening, and the consequence was that the cooks and the food and the other things went to the right place. I use that as an illustration to show that more information about U.N.R.R.A. should be made available, in the form of statistics, including drawings and illustrations which would make that information easy to assimilate. Why cannot the Government provide a White Paper on the achievements of U.N.R.R.A.? I think this has been pressed for before, but so far as I know there is not in existence a White Paper giving complete details of what U.N.R.R.A. has done. U.N.R.R.A. should be sold to the world, in order to encourage the world to cooperate to a much greater extent.

Now for a word about the Emergency Economic Committee. The Minister of State is president of this Emergency Economic Committee for Europe. This is a fact finding body which is producing very good facts indeed, but which are known only to the people who are interested in this matter, and who can ferret out what they are doing. It ought not to be necessary for average members of the public to have to scratch around for information. It should be presented to them in the daily newspapers, and in White Papers. Further, this information should be sent to America and other food producing countries. If that was done efficiently it would create a good deal of sympathy, which would help the rehabilitation of Europe. For example, I see that, in 1945, Yugoslavia was the second largest recipient of relief. That country had 1,000,000 tons of various commodities, costing £70 million. What publicity has there been inside Yugoslavia, where, at present, great hostility is being shown to this country? The facts should be brought home to the persons who eat the food in Yugoslavia, to show them where it is coming from and how it gets there.

Also the question of the Combined Food Board is a very vital one, because its operations are shrouded in secrecy. The Leader of the House came back recently from America and was not able to give us complete information because he said it would have been contrary to the Combined Food Boards to disclose it. He was quite right if that was the policy, but the Board is wrong to have such a policy. Mr. Lehman, who has been Director-General of U.N.R.R.A., said: … it seems imperative that each allocation recommended by the Combined Food Board be made public, and that at the same time the extent to which that allocation meets the reasonable standards of consumption. It seems inevitable that suspicion and misunderstanding will grow in the countries whose people are threatened with starvation, if they are not given the information by supplying countries which indicates the extent to which help has been given other countries. Why cannot this country take the lead, with the Board, and make certain facts available to the public and the world in general?

Major Bruce

It would be useless for the Board to make the facts available if the organs of the Press which support hon. Members opposite continue to misrepresent those facts.

Mr. Marples

If the facts are put into the newspapers they could not be distorted.

Major Bruce

I said " misrepresent."

Mr. Marples

Quotations from a White Paper, or an official document, could not be distorted, except by comment. There are certain papers which represent the interests of Members opposite which are not free from a certain amount of taint in that respect.

Mr. Stokes

Is the hon. Member aware that the Economic Committee for Europe made a full report in the early part of February, and that the only paper, other than the " Daily Herald," which carried news of that report was the " Manchester Guardian "? No Tory newspaper referred to it at all.

Mr. Marples

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for that interruption which reinforces my argument, that a White Paper issued in this country would receive more publicity than the document to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. A White Paper would be published in almost every newspaper, Right Wing, Left Wing and Centre. I see the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) agrees with me about that, and if the hon. Member is fortunate enough to catch Mr. Deputy-Speaker's eye I hope he will bring out that point, and reinforce it. U.N.R.R.A., I think, should have representation on the Combined Food Board. At present, they have to go to the Board with other countries; by that, I mean other receiving countries who buy. In order to get U.N.R.R.A. into the over-all picture, surely it is necessary for them to have a seat on the Combined Food Board.

I have not made these criticisms in a party or carping spirit; I have made them because I want publicity fo U.N.R.R.A. I think it is too early to give a final verdict on what U.N.R.R.A. have done, but they have certainly tackled one of the most difficult jobs which any organisation has had to take on in the history of the world. Taking all things into account, it has done very well. At the same time, it can be improved. It has done a good job from the moral point of view as well as from other points of view. I hope that, when the Under-Secretary goes to America—I am told he is leaving tonight—he will try to do something to see that U.N.R.R.A. is represented on the Combined Food Board, and that due publicity is given to U.N.R.R.A.'s contribution to a great and urgent problem.

2.51 p.m.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) for having afforded the House an opportunity of discussing this important aspect of world affairs. will not follow him in his remarks about the state of things in Italy because, apart from the fact that I have not been there recently, I- have not read the " Sunday Graphic " and the " Daily Sketch " over the last few weeks. I am more concerned about the state of affairs in the Far East. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Wallasey that there has been far too little information reaching the public in regard to what is going on in the Far East in-connection with U.N.R.R.A. I think the House will agree that it is most important that the activities of U.N.R.R A., which have relieved so much suffering in various European countries and in the Far East, should be conducted in a manner that is absolutely above suspicion. As far as this country's institutions are concerned, we are always able to question a Minister of the Crown, we are always able to draw attention to the manner in which a Government Department conducts its affairs; but in regard to U.N.R.R.A. we rely entirely upon the good will of the organisation itself, possibly supplemented from time to time by declarations from the Minister of State as to how its activities are being conducted. There have been rumblings from time to time from the Far East, which, as far as I am concerned, have recently crystallised in a letter I have received from a correspondent in China, who is a representative of a reputable firm. He says: China is for the moment virtually under American control and this state of affairs is not improved by the operations of U.N.R.R.A. and its Chinese counterpart, C.N.R.R.A. These two organisations are now under heavy criticism on charges of corruption, and are, in effect, no more than highly organised selling agents for -American goods, particularly those luxury articles which, for some unknown reason, form such a large part of C.N.R.R.A. shipments. I am making no allegation on the basis of the information I have received, but I think the House is entitled to have some explanation in due course—not necessarily this afternoon—on any investigations which the Minister of State may see fit to undertake in regard to the U.N.R.R.A. administration in the Far East. If it be true that the U.N.R.R.A. organisation in the Far East and its Chinese counterpart, C.N.R.R.A., are being used for purposes of this kind, it is a matter which is highly reprehensible and which should be taken up vigorously by our own Government. Therefore I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to give me an assurance that the allegation will be investigated. I am bound to say, from experience of American military and semi-military organisations—I had the privilege, during the war, of serving on an Anglo-American staff—one did from time to time wonder whether all that vast organisation of officers quartered in the Avenue Kleber in Paris was an entirely military organisation, or was there partially for the purpose of furthering American commercial interests. I hope the Minister of State may be able in due course, after the Recess, to present us with some reassuring information.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

I want to reinforce one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), to whom I am very grateful for having initiated this Debate. The work that U.N.R.R.A. does is of the utmost importance. While my own knowledge is limited chiefly to Germany, I can say without any fear of contradiction that the work being done there is absolutely first class, even though it may have been criticised when it was making a somewhat shaky start in the early days. Like the hon. Member for Wallasey, I wish to make some constructive criticisms.

I want particularly to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether some arrangement can be made to prevent the rather absurd and contradictory directives that arc being put up, signed both by the Military Government and by U.N.R.R.A. representatives, in the displaced persons' camps. I do not believe it is the fault of the representatives of U.N.R.R.A., but the fact remains that the military are very anxious to get rid of the displaced persons. I understand their anxiety. All of us are anxious to find some solution to the problem. The fact is, however, that most alarming and unfair notices are posted in the camps from time to time, without the headquarters of U.N.R.R.A. having any previous knowledge of them, because the local representatives at the camps are practically forced to give their signatures because the Military Government have so decreed. I do not know whether the U.N.R.R.A. representatives in the camps can he told that, when anything of this nature is put up which does not come within the compass of the agreement already arrived at by the Economic and Social Council, they should refuse to put their names to it. These notices have the most alarming and unfair effect on some of the inmates of the camps. Secondly, like the hon. Member for Wallasey, I want to ask what is to happen to the displaced persons. Under the present arrangement, U.N.R.R.A. is supposed to come to an end on 31st December of this year, but I understand that, in fact, there is no likelihood of a decision being arrived at before the September Council.

Mr. McNeil

It is impossible.

Mr. Stokes

In that case, something ought to be said now about the future duration of U.N.R.R.A. We cannot simply leave the camps under nobody's control, and for heaven's sake, do not let us put them under military control. Let us insist that U.N.R.R.A. shall go on until a decision has been taken and a period of time allowed to elapse, so that the displaced persons can start off a new life, wherever it may be. I and some other hon. Members have pressed for a decision to be taken now. We have pressed that the Big Three should decide where this hard core of half a million persons should go within the confines of their own Empires. Let us get on with the job in the summer months. If that is not done, no decision will be taken until September, if then, and it will be next summer before anything can be done. There ought to be some decision now, so that the people operating U.N.R.R.A. may have a feeling of confidence, of continuity of job, and of security in the work which they are doing.

Thirdly, I ask the Under-Secretary of State whether a decision has been arrived at; and if not, when it will be arrived at, with regard to the Central Tracing Bureau. That Bureau is under the direction of U.N.R.R.A. at the present time. It does very useful work. It is engaged in all countries in Europe in trying to find out where people have gone. Over 1000 inquiries a day come into the Bureau about people who were displaced, who got lost, and many of whom are, no doubt, dead. The Central Tracing Bureau are doing magnificent work. They have a most efficient organisation, and an extremely keen body of people working for them; but with the impending demise of U.N.R.R.A., they have no indication of what is to happen to their control and administration when U.N.R.R.A. conies to an end. I do not speak without some knowledge of this subject. I would like to be assured that if U.N.R.R.A. closes down, the Central Tracing Bureau will come under the United Nations, so that its very valuable international work will continue. With regard to the distribution of foodstuffs, the hon. Member for Wallasey implied that it would be better if U.N.R.R.A. had closer control of the distribution of bulk supplies than at present appears to be the case in territories which he has visited.

Mr. Marples

What I said was that it fair shares are not being distributed in any particular country and if the Government concerned cannot guarantee fair shares for all, that Government would have to be very closely controlled by U.N.R.R.A.

Mr. Stokes

I see the hon. Member's point, and the House will have heard it. I have been in Germany twice this year and I know there is a great number of displaced persons whom U.N.R.R.A. does not and cannot touch. The responsible heads of U.N.R.R.A. are no mean people. They include the chap who planned D-Day. He said to me, " For heaven's sake don't put that job on to me. I haven't got the staff The thing is too vast. I simply can't tackle it." U.N.R.R.A. should not be asked, especially in view of its temporary nature, to undertake a task the scope of which is at present beyond the possibility of efficient operation.

The hon. Member referred to certain rumours which he said were rampant, particularly in America, as to the emergency position being over, because when this harvest came in all would be well. I agree with him that the crisis is nothing like over and will not be over for a long time. For the benefit of the House I would like to quote the words of the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr), who said last week in this House: The facts are that when we get in the 1946 harvest the world will be as badly off for food as it was when we got in the 1945 harvest. Unless measures are,taken immediately to conserve the 1946 harvest and to spread it over the year and distribute it according to our needs, at this time next year we shall be in the same desperate plight as which we are today. The shortage might even continue beyond 1947 into 1948."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31E1 May, 1946; Vol. 423 C. 1548.] The hon. Gentleman is an authority on the subject. If his gloomy forebodings turn out to be true there is a very solid argument for the continuance of U.N.R.R.A. at least until the end of 1947, so that a fair and proper distribution of supplies may take place.

With regard to displaced persons; U.N.R.R.A. is doing magnificent work. I do not suggest for a moment that all the camps are perfect or that all the people inside them are saints. We know they are not, but in the main, the camps are well administered. The U.N.R.R.A. teams in charge of them are enthusiastic and are throwing their heart and soul into them. It should be within the knowledge of the House that the expenditure on the displaced persons is in the order of only two per cent. or three per cent. of the total U.N.R.R.A. expenditure. It is the most humane part of their work. Therefore, it is vital that U. N.R.R. A. 's life should he prolonged and that it should be known that it will be prolonged, not only until a decision has been taken as to how displaced persons are to be disposed of but until a period of time has elapsed after their disposal, during which period they can be moved around to their new homes and destinations.

Another point is the replacement of the personnel who are running U.N.R.R.A. It is quite impossible to get people to go into U.N.R.R.A. and to volunteer to work in that organisation unless it has a definite life ahead for a fixed period. At the present time, displaced persons have been told that U.N.R.R.A. is closing down on 31st December this year, whereas people with practical knowledge know that U.N.R.R.A. must not close down, or that some other organisation must be put in its place. If the camps are to be properly administered the people there now should have security for whatever future period may be decided upon. The filling-in people, who are taking the place of those who, for one reason or another, may resign, will be of a much better type:f they see a definite future of one year or 18 months ahead for the work which they have undertaken.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

As the hon. Gentleman is talking about the replacement of resigning U.N.R.R.A. officials, perhaps he might ask the Under-Secretary to make reference to the possibility of these people being replaced by suitable displaced persons. Until recently promotion of this kind was taking place. Recently it has stopped. It is disastrous that it should have been stopped.

Mr. Stokes

I should not preclude that for a moment, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his suggestion. There are in these camps admirable people whose services could be used, and, in many cases, their services are being used although in rather different capacities, but there is no reason why they should not be used to administer some of the camps. In my view, U.N.R.R.A. has taken on a somewhat new lease of life on the American side since La Guardia has taken the helm. He is a man of whom people have differing opinions and he is known by all sorts of names from " Little Flower "To " Butch." However, he is a man of tremendous drive and character, and if anybody can stir the Americans into keeping this going until the work in Europe reaches a satisfactory conclusion, he will do it. In order that the work he is doing on the other side should be adequately supported on this side, I ask His Majesty's Government to make a pronouncement as soon as possible, by arrangement with the American Government, as to the life of U.N.R.R.A. to ensure that both the people who administer it and those who are administered by it can have some certainty of tenure.

3.7 P.m.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) saying that U.N.R.R.A.'s good deeds were not known. I have an ample supply of literature from U.N.R.R.A. describing in detail all the work which is being done, and that literature is open to anybody who is interested in its work and its great. humanitarian scope. I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary would make clear one point about Yugoslavia. We are, I believe, the second largest contributors to the funds of U.N.R.R.A., and our contribution is made by great sacrifice on the part of this nation—a sacrifice in consumer goods which are urgently required for this country itself, including a large amount of rolling stock, and a sacrifice by the additional strain on our dollar exchange for food stuffs and other commodities which are supplied and paid for in dollars. Yet we are told that Yugoslavia cannot be represented at the Victory Parade tomorrow because Great Britain is unfriendly to Yugoslavia. Is there any truth in the statement, which is made on very good authority, that once our contributions are landed in Yugoslavia all indications of the source and origin of those contributions completely disappear and the people who receive those very substantial benefits have no idea whatever of whence they come, and by whom they are paid for? That is a statement which is causing some disquiet to good many people in this country, and I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary will if it is true convey to the Yugoslav Government a distinct warning that this one-sided arrangement cannot go on, or, if it is not true, that he will remove the anxieties of those who are anxious to give every support to U.N.R.R.A. and the magnificent work it is doing.

3.9 P.m.

M r. Edelman (Coventry, West)

If in the few minutes at my disposal I do not follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) in his argument, it is not because I consider it uninteresting or unimportant, but I wish specifically to refer to one aspect of U. N.R.R.A.'s work which has not been touched upon today. That is its function in rehabilitating European agriculture. This, in turn, depends to a very great extent on its ability to obtain and supply mechanised equipment for agriculture. If we look at Europe today we see that the tractor, which was coming into general use, particularly in the Eastern part of Europe, is today being used less and less owing to the fact that so many of the tractor plants were destroyed during the war. In Russia, for example, it is well known that the great tractor works of Stalingrad and Kharkov were destroyed by the Germans, and the result is that much of the traction for agriculture in Eastern Europe is today done by hand. The effect of that on agricultural productivity is almost incalculable, and is a reason why one might well discount many of the accounts of abundant agricultural supplies in Russia. The Russian agricultural economy was very largely based on the tractor and on the tractor station. With the destruction of its power to produce tractors and mechanical equipment, its agricultural productivity must inevitably have fallen.

It is quite clear that if U.N.R.R.A. is to be helped in its work of feeding Europe, it must also have the opportunity and the power to acquire agricultural equipment and mechanised equipment of various kinds for agricultural purposes. I hope, therefore, that whatever the future of U.N.R.R.A. it will, before it winds up in its present form, or when it takes on a new form, enter into large-scale " forward " contracts to buy agricultural equipment and, in particular, tractors. There are in the world today three great areas where tractors and mechanised equipment for agriculture can be produced: first the United States, secondly, the Midlands of this country—in particular, Coventry—and thirdly, Northern Italy. It seems to me that if U.N.R.R.A. had the power and the means to purchase tractors in Northern Italy and the Midlands of this country, for " forward " delivery in 1947 and 1948, not only would we stimulate two great industrial areas of the world but would be providing for the great ultimate benefit of European agriculture.

I do not believe that agricultural productivity in Europe can reach its former level unless it is aided by mechanisation in that form, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us what are U. N. R.R.A.'s plans for purchasing agricultural machinery and tractors. The tractor is not something which can merely be taken off the peg; its production has to be scheduled and planned. U.N.R.R.A. has a major responsibility for the mechanical rehabilitation of Europe's agriculture; it is a responsibility which involves foresight and action, now.

3.14 p.m.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

I want to press the point to which I referred in a brief interjection just now. I was in the British zone about a fortnight ago, and I found great dismay amongst many of the best U.N.R.R.A. officials as to a recent rule from U.N.R.R.A. headquarters prohibiting the appointment of displaced persons to U.N.R.R.A. officer positions. I saw many U.N.R.R.A. officers who had been displaced persons and had been appointed before this rule was promulgated, some very excellent people. I saw, for example, a sick bay organised by a man, obviously a very able doctor, who had been Dean of the Faculty at Riga, and other people who were obviously qualified for U.N.R.R.A. officer positions, some of them quite as efficient as some of the present U.N.R.R.A. officers. It is obvious that if they can be promoted there are certain advantages. For instance, you save money, because it is cheaper to employ these persons than to bring people from England or America. In the second place, which is more important, by choosing the best of these displaced persons, we could give a stimulus and encouragement to the morale of the community from which they have been taken, and make them feel that this is not a kind of external Anglo-American soup kitchen arrangement, but a cooperative enterprise in which they are taking part. I hope the Under-Secretary, unless he can satisfy us that there is a sufficient reason—which I cannot imagine why this rule is in force. will see that it is removed

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

There are two very simple points I wish to raise, and I do not expect an answer. I support the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) but only in a modified form. I do not think we can ask for a White Paper or for something specially printed, but we are entitled to know what U N.R.R.A. is doing week by week. It is no use saying that the Government do not know. They do know. I think that if we were to search through the files, or if any of the Ministers on the Bench before me searched through the files in any of their Departments, they would find full information concerning all the different countries in Europe. They would find what calories are available day by day, and the amount of foodstuffs which have been imported, and the amount of reserves and the estimated cost, and all the different items which go to make the normal dietary of the different liberated countries, in fact of every country, apart from America and Russia. We know very little indeed as regards those two countries.

I believe we are making a great mistake today. Government Departments are marking papers " Secret " which are not secret at all. This is of paramount importance, and I am,going to confess something which I think should be confessed. I have never read such stuff and nonsense as I have read in recent weeks headed " Secret," while associated with the Ministry of Food. I make no apologies for saying that. Ordinary information which Dutch friends have given me, and which I have had delivered to me this afternoon in the Lobby of the House, has been published in European countries, yet it is published as secret information in Government Departments. Why should that be so? Why should we not be told precisely what is available in different European countries? If it should be that there are 35,000 or 40,000 cattle on the hoof surplus in Denmark and U.N.R.R.A. ought to have them, why has not U.N.R.R.A. the money, or why have not the cattle been moved?

Mr. Stokes

Does my hon. Friend recognise that this disease is part of the plot of the Civil Service against Parliament?

Mr. Walkden

Whoever is responsible for the plot, it will be my firm determination to unravel or expose the plot and to rid us of this suspicion on both sides of the House. It is of paramount importance that we should come into the open with this information. Government Departments could tell us when we stop produce coming to this country. We stopped produce coming. from Holland on 3rst May, but no one has ever told us why that produce is not going to U.N.R.R.A, and to liberated countries. No one has ever told us that it is going there. There are other issues concerning the Balkan States. The Balkan countries have certain surplus products. The hon. Member for Wallasey raised the question of surpluses in Italy. I saw the information weeks ago marked " Secret," and a fortnight ago I read it in information circulated from Italy, so there was no secret in it. Why is it that Members of Parliament cannot have this information? We are entitled to know. Members of Parliament must know, for the sake of the reputation of Britain and the honour that is associated with U.N.R.R.A. in the work it is doing. We ought to have these secret documents, as they are called. Of course, it is stuff and nonsense to call them secret documents. They should be circulated in the weekly postbag. We get a lot of other trash. These would be useful to us. It would save Ministers from having to answer a lot of questions which sometimes annoy them, and it would cause us to believe that we are getting good value for our money.

A final point that I do not understand is concerned with the Island of Malta, the George Cross Island. Some few weeks ago they had thousands of tons of surplus potatoes. Personally, I tried to find out how it was that they were supposed to have exported potatoes to the United Kingdom. I did not believe that they had and I found out that they had not, but those potatoes have gone somewhere. They have not come here. They have not come with the approval of the Minister of Agriculture. The fact is that they have gone somewhere. Three thousands tons of potatoes left Malta for commercial reasons and for somebody's advantage; but between now and September we shall have to send possibly a similar amount of flour from stocks we cannot afford to replace potatoes that have been sent to give somebody commercial advantage.

These are serious matters and I beseech the Minister to consider them. I do not want to reply now, I know he cannot answer this question now, but I know the Government can provide the answer, and the Government must provide the answer if they are to retain the confidence we want to feel in the work U.N.R.R.A. is doing. Therefore, I support the hon. Member for Wallasey. He raises many questions on which we like to find ourselves in agreement with him. We ought to rid ourselves of this suspicion. We ought to have this information. It must be circulated to Members. Give us the fullest information not only of U.N.R. R.A.'s work, but of all the stocks of food, where they are, where they are going, where they are needed—give us all this information and it will save a lot of time in our Debates. We will also certainly feel the amount of confidence we want to feel in U.N.R.R.A.'s useful contribution for the wellbeing of mankind.

3.23 p.m.

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

I am sure the House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman who raised this Debate which has ranged very widely indeed, so widely that it has included some questions to which I cannot possibly address myself. For example, it is quite plain that my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) is in a much better position to reply for the Ministry of Food than I am and questions about the movement of food should be addressed to the Minister of Food. At any rate, I cannot deal with those matters. I want to try to get rid of some of the smaller points before I deal with the substantial points of the Debate. First I want to say to the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) that I am indebted to him for having told me seven days ago of this apparent cessation of the employment of displaced persons in camps. I agree with him wholeheartedly. I fulfilled my promise to him and immediately made inquiries. I assure him and the House that I am not a partner to this apparently wasteful, thoughtless, and almost immoral pushing aside of people who are anxious to help and who have qualifications.

I am afraid I cannot answer the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) with reference to Yugoslavia. There are various points on which we have slight differences with this friendly Government—because it is a friendly Government. I have had almost a running fight with the representatives from Yugoslavia who sat with me on the Committee for Refugees, and there will probably be continued difficulties, hut, while I engage quite freely to follow up the point made by the hon. Gentleman and have inquiries made concerning it, I should, in fairness to that Yugoslav Government, say that, to the best of my recollection, we have had no substantial complaints relating to U.N.R.R.A. supplies to Yugoslavia. Indeed, the informtion has been rather the other way, but I know the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to reply in detail now, and I will therefore have inquiries made and see that he is furnished with the information.

The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) raised a number of points. Let me try to dispose of one of them—the -fate of the Central Tracing Board. If I am right in my recollection, there are really two Central Tracing Boards, and I rather think my hon. Friend was thinking of the one in the American zone, which comes completely under U.N.R. R.A.

Mr. Stokes

indicated assent.

Mr. McNeil

Of course, there is one in the British zone, too, where a close association is maintained with U.N.R.R.A. but it does not lie under their control. My anticipation would be that, in any future international refugee organisation—and I shall deal with that in a moment—a component part would obviously have to be a tracing bureau of some kind. I should also imagine that, if there were a gap between the cessation of U.N.R.R.A.—and this might not necessarily be—and the starting up of a new refugee organisation, this Government, at any rate, would do what it could, I imagine, with the full assent of the United States Government, to see that the present Board does not have its personnel dispersed and its organisation broken down. It has a substantial humanitarian value.

Next, I come to the fate of displaced persons. May I say, in passing, that the hon. Gentleman who raised the question was, I think, wrong in his impression about the proportion of these displaced persons. I think it is true, though I am speaking from memory, that something between 80 and 90 per cent, of the displaced persons have already been repatriated. That is not to say, of course, that there is still anything but a very substantial task on our hands jointly, but repatriation continues, and no one here knows what will be the figure of the hard core of repatriates, although my hon. Friend has suggested 500,000. The United Kingdom has been represented on the Committee to which reference has been made, and, from this Committee, we hope there will develop an international organisation, which is very important, not only from the financial, but from the responsibility, point of view. It would not be sufficient, in the opinion of the Government, that there should just be an arrangement with the Americans for dealing with this problem. We hope there will be an international organisation.

If there should be a gap between U.N.R.R.A. and the operation of this international organisation, the House can be assured that the Government are already addressing themselves to that possibility. It is one which, I hope, will not arise, but it is not one which we have overlooked. Indeed, apart from the official job which I hope to do in relation to refugees in New York, I hope to have conversations with our American friends upon the kind of interim machinery which we shall require and to extend this discussion if necessary. Our hope and endeavour will be to see that there will be no gap, but that the new international refugee organisation will take over a running machine.

Mr. Stokes

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman believes that U.N.R.R.A. will continue until such time as the new organisation is set up?

Mr. McNeil

Perhaps my hon. Friend will not mind if I address myself to this question in my own way. I must point out that my hon. Friend's question represents a lack of logic which I would never have associated with him. It may be that it would be in a position to operate on a scheduled day, but there is another side to the question, and I think my hon. Friend shows one-sided logic. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) asked me a question to which I can give no immediate answer. I can only say that the U.N.R.R.A. Committee for the Far East is now to meet in China. The Government are represented on that Committee, if my recollection is right, by a Foreign Office official, but I will see that inquiries are made and that a reply is furnished to my hon. and gallant Friend. Regarding U.N.R.R.A. publicity, I think that here again, there is some misunderstanding. It would not be possible, for example, for the Government to publish a White Paper about the scope and extent of the work of U.N.R.R.A. It might be possible, if the House thought it advisable, for the Government to publish a White Paper about their work inside U.N.R.R.A. In fact, for other reasons, a statement on this is in a fairly advanced state of preparation, and, if the House wishes it to be published as a White Paper, I will consider it very sympathetically and I rather think that my right hon Friend would agree. That is as far as it could go. It would be quite impossible for H.M.G. to issue a White Paper about U.N.R.R.A., because U.N.R.R.A. is an international organisation in which we only take part.

Mr. Marples

Surely, the hon. Gentleman could make representations to the other Governments concerned in order to produce a combined document which would be very impressive in its scope?

Lieut.Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

Did the hon. Gentleman say " H.M.G." or " H.M.V."?

Mr. McNeil

" H.M.V."Is on the other side of the House. I have no doubt that what the hon. Member suggests could be done, but I am quite certain that the importance of this will not be allowed to disappear without reasonable publication. Again, that would not be a White Paper, but would involve quite a different question from the one addressed to me.

The question of U.N.R.R.A. personnel is a much wider one. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend, but I share, as everyone must, some of the fears expressed by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. In any organisation which is temporary, it is most unusual to get first-class people, although, as I have pointed out, there are some very good examples of officials in the service of U.N.R.R.A. It is increasingly difficult to obtain, and even more difficult to,retain, first-class people for this work.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he has considered the position of those refugees who are in this country and in other countries and who would be prepared to assist U.N.R.R.A. if they were not placed in the difficulty of being afraid that they may not be given the opportunity of returning to their homes in this country or elsewhere? Would the hon. Gentleman consider, when the question of personnel is being dealt with, that an assurance might be given to such people who would be extremely helpful in this work that, by participating in it, they were not to be placed in the difficult position of being doubtful about the certainty of their return here?

Mr. McNeil

Of course, that is a question for the Home Office, to which I could not possibly address myself. As far as employment is concerned, a very great proportion of the staff would fall into this category, and we have within U.N.R.R.A. just now many foreigners, if I may so call them, from the United Kingdom, who are giving very important service. U.N.R.R.A., I should add, is already attempting to deal with this problem, and would welcome a personnel agreement with the public services of the United Nations and with the permanent international organisations. Much of the experience being gained by highly qualified people inside U.N.R.R.A. would be of immense value to any international organisation. I may add, before I pass from this subject, that the point is not as had as it seems. It is true that U.N.R.R.A. has been able only to offer short term contracts, but like most contracts of that kind there is a compensating factor in the shape of rather higher salaries. Indeed, I did see in the Press a comparison, which I thought quite an unfair one, which showed how badly paid British civil servants were compared with U.N.R.R.A. personnel. But the weighting factor is the temporary nature of the employment.

As to better control of goods at the receiving end, it would not be possible, because of U. N.R. R.A. 's constitution, for it to undertake distribution. Without discussing the subject too fully, may I say that if the hon. Gentleman reflects upon it, he will see it would expose itself to a politically difficult situation if short-circuited the Government of a country. My recollection is that by its agreement, it cannot have direct control over the distribution. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, it takes an active interest in distribution, and the Governments concerned are pledged to provide U.N.R.R.A. with full information regarding the distribution of U.N.R.R.A. supplies, and to allow free movement to U.N.R.R.A. observers throughout their countries. In Italy, as in other receiving countries, U.N.R.R.A. has made representations on several occasions regarding the control and distribution of the supplies. Within the last two weeks indeed. in relation to Italy, the Mission has established a special unit to investigate in conjunction with the Government, reports of black market activities. There is also in the process of formation in the European Regional Office a special international unit which will have the duties of inspection and supervision of the arrangements by the Mission for the distribution of U.N.R.R.A. supplies in the receiving countries.

Perhaps I shall not be expected to go too fully into figures relating to dairy products in Italy. In my letter to the hon. Gentleman I did supply him with as full figures as I could. The position may be summed up by saying, that, first, it would be difficult to secure rationing, in appreciable quantities, of the goods available; and, second—and I am quite certain of this—that the average Italian worker is spending something very like 75 per cent. of his wages already on food and that, therefore, to offer these other foods at their high prices on the rations would not improve his position at all.

The future of U.N.R.R.A. was the subject which engaged Members on all sides of the House. This will be the major question for discussion, I am quite sure, at the August Council of the Administration. H.M.G. are very much alive to the considerations which we have heard from both sides of the House, and the question is being considered most urgently and earnestly by the interested Ministries just now. Of course, H.M.G. alone cannot make an decision about U.N.R.R.A.

Lieut.Colonel Dower

Did the hon Gentleman say " H.M.V."?

Mr. McNeil

I thought we had disposed of that rather tiresome joke, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any difficulty in following me in the use of this well known abbreviation I will—

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

Would it not avoid any possible mistake, and be much more in Order if, instead of using the initial letters " H.M.G.", we described His Majesty's Government as His Majesty's Government? With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman I think we should.

Mr. McNeil

I am sorry. I did not want to hurt anybody's susceptibilities. I should like to have a clear Ruling in the matter. I have been allowed to say U.N.R.R.A. throughout up to now, which is much more convenient—

Mr. Orr-Ewing

That is different.

Mr. McNeil

Perhaps it is. If it is different in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, I will endeavopr to talk about His Majesty's Government. Perhaps, it would be much simpler to say "The Administration." So I will say that the Administration is actively considering this matter. I must not go further than that, because there are many demands upon our resources, and a balance has to be made upon this. But, in our consideration, one of the things we cannot overdo is the very valuable work of U.N.R.R.A. in relation to the displaced persons. We shall see that that job does not suffer.