§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I apologise to the Government for having to raise this important subject at such short notice, and I fully appreciate and understand if I 750 cannot get answers to all the points I wish to make. I want to talk about the whole question of displaced persons, of whom there are approximately 269,000 in the British zone in Germany. There are others in Italy and Austria, about whom I do not know the details so well, and approximately 450,000 in the American and French zones. They have been forced out of their homes, and we have now got to the state where those who would otherwise be willing to be repatriated will not go back for fear that they will be persecuted for their political beliefs.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Bolton)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to raise a matter when a representative of the appropriate Department is not here to hear it or reply to it?
§ Mr. Stokes
May I say to my hon. Friend that although I know that discussions took place earlier today about the Debate having to be put off, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) has agreed that it should go on?
It is the responsibility of the chief Allied Powers to see that these displaced persons receive fair treatment. Unfortunately, it is so common in this country for people to like dirty news that displaced persons, as a whole, have a bad reputation here, and are constantly being referred to as vagabonds and thieves. That is not the case. It is true that there is a small minority, who were let loose from prisons in Poland and elsewhere, who have been a nuisance; they would be a nuisance wherever they went. But the vast majority are first-class people who, if let into this country, would be of great benefit to our stock, would help to raise the standard of living, and would be of immense use anywhere where there was a labour shortage. The doctor who looks after them, and who was a hero at El Alamein, assures me that their health is in first-class condition.
There are three alternatives for these people. Either they have to be forcibly repatriated, which is unthinkable, or they have to be dumped into Germany which, again, is unthinkable and most undesirable. They would become the tag end of a mixed population, and many, in any case, 751 curse the Germans for their present condition. Thirdly, we have to find some way of settling them among ourselves. I cannot understand why His Majesty's Government and the United States and French Governments cannot settle this matter themselves. The three of us have a white population of 245 million, and the total of these displaced persons is about one million, which is less than 1 per cent. of the white population of our joint Empires.
Of the number in our zone in Germany, 150,000 are employable, able and willing to work. They would be of great assistance to anyone needing manpower. That number comprises about 64 per cent. of the whole. I do not want to detain the House with too many figures because I know other Members wish to speak, but it is important to remember that there are trades, which are short staffed, in which many of these people could fill gaps. In the agricultural industry, for instance, there are 34,000 displaced people who are registered as competent workers. In the specialist trades there are 32,000, in the metal trades nearly 3,000, and in the professional trades about 8,000.
I want to deal, shortly, with the objections, such as they have been presented to me, and the difficulties of bringing these people here now. I know that the Ministry of Labour are making efforts to bring people in as hospital assistants, but that is on the female side. Of the 150,000 capable workers, over 100,000 are males. So far as is publicly known, the Ministry of Labour are dealing only with females at the moment. We are told that there is a great housing shortage in this country and a food problem. The answer to the last point is that these people have to be fed anyway, and that we, or somebody, have to pay for the food kept in Germany.
The housing problem does not present any difficulty, because there are available vast camps which were used by the American Forces and ourselves. They are now empty, and are palaces compared with the places in which these people are now living. Given the opportunity, they could convert these places into first-class dwelling houses. I am sure that hundreds of thousands of them would 'welcome the opportunity of coming here in those conditions. Secondly, as a result of years of unemployment at home, as the 752 result of Tory mismanagement, it is feared that there will not be enough jobs for everybody. We on this side believe that there will be full employment and more jobs for men to do than there are men to do them. Therefore, our workers should be assured that they will not be thrown out of work if foreigners are admitted into our midst. I could not help but admire Low's cartoon the other day which showed. Colonel Blimp watching foreigners coming in with, behind him, representatives of the mongrel lot from which we are descended. This country benefited enormously by the incursion of foreign blood. Anyone who is a student of history knows that to be the case Moreover, it is good business.
We are told that in order to compensate for the loss of our overseas investments we must export more—materials, machinery, and the like. What does that mean? It means that, if that is so, and if we are not to let our own standard of living down, we have to employ a larger labour force in this country than ever before. I cannot say exactly what the figure is, but the "Manchester Guardian", yesterday, said that there were at present only 497,000—disregarding the present crisis period—more people in employment than there were in 1939. That includes nearly 1,250,000 in the Armed Forces, and, of course, we did not have anything like that number in the Armed Forces before the war. If we do not want to let our own standard of living down, and we are to maintain it by increased exports and production for our own consumption, we require at least 1,250,000 able-bodied workers now—not next year or the year after but now—otherwise the standard of living will go steadily down. The figure may be 2½ million—I do not know, because I have not the statistics available—but we have to have more than we have now in employment in this country if the standard of living is not to fall.
There are one or two other points which I wish to make. I appreciate the importance of people going back to their own countries, but it is the general feeling that no one should be forced to do so if he does not wish to do so for decent political reasons. We have heard arguments on both sides of the House about the Poles. I appreciate the importance of persuading as many Poles as possible to go back to Poland. There are a great 753 many displaced persons, and peasant people particularly, who, I think, would be better off in Poland, as it is today, than anywhere else. I am, of course, talking about the non-political people. When I was in Germany recently, I had the opportunity of speaking to those in charge of displaced persons. I talked to the doctor, whom I have already mentioned, and to a young lady who looks after child repatriation. In Poland, there are some 30 institutions for parentless children. This young lady has visited 15, of which 13 of them are still in the hands of the nuns, and in the other two every religious liberty is allowed—and the children are well clothed and well fed. The doctor gave a similar report about the conditions in hospitals. It is important that people should understand what the conditions are, so that they may know what they are going to, if they go back. I see the importance of not forcing them to go hack, but I want them to realise the facts, so that they may make the right choice, and, I hope, go back to help their own country.
There is one beastliness to which I must refer. There is a nasty game of "body snatching" going on amongst the Powers. I came across it while traveling on the Continent. The authorities have had instructions that they are to uproot children, whatever the conditions in which they are living, and force them to go back to their so-called country of origin. I wish to raise a protest about that. There are roughly four categories. There are the children in institutions in Germany, and are not Germans—and no one can complain that they should be transferred to institutions in their country of origin.
There are also the children who, when they were picked up under the beastly scheme of the Nazis to increase manpower, were transplanted at the age of six or seven. They are now between the ages of 12 and 13, and many of them have parents still alive. They are at an age when they should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to go back. Any child whose parents are alive should he sent back to its parents. There are younger children whose parents are known, and they should go back to them. In that category I do not include the illegitimate children of a French, or Polish, or Czechoslovakian soldier by a 754 German woman. Those children ought to be left with their mothers and not be taken away as some of the Governments are claiming to do. That is a kind of crime that ought to be prevented.
The fourth category is the worst of all. Some children were planted out by the Germans when only one or two years old. They had no knowledge of what life was about, and the existence of their parents is not known. The origin of the children is known, however. It is wrong, where those children are safely living in families with whom they are happy and well looked after, with the only parents of whom they have any knowledge—foster parents—that they should be forcibly taken away, out of the happy family to an institution in what is to them an entirely foreign country. I hope that His Majesty's Government will give instructions in Germany that that practice must stop.
I ask that this matter of displaced persons should be treated with the urgency which it deserves. I do not want to get into a quarrel with the United Nations or the international refugee organisations, but whether the people are Poles. Ukrainians or Jews, we are responsible. We have a great responsibility for getting those people resettled where they can enjoy a reasonably safe and happy life. If the three nations, the United States. France and ourselves, really set about it, there is no reason whatever why they should not be able to do it. Russia always claims that she has no displaced person problem, I understand. She has in fact 1,500,000 displaced persons—nearly one million Poles—forcibly taken away to Russia, and Latvians, Esthonians, etc. I am sure that the generosity of the British nation is equal to this difficulty and that we shall be able to clear up this situation if only the Government will set about it.
§ 3.47 P.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
The hon. Member has raised a serious question, and in concentrating upon one aspect of the matter I do not want it to be thought for a moment that I do not regard it as important to do the decent thing merely because it is the decent thing. That is extremely important, just for itself. I believe that here, in doing the decent thing, we are doing something which is vitally necessary for ourselves. There are two aspects of the problem, the short- 755 term and the long-term, and with the long-term is involved a problem of the birthrate.
Let me examine our position today. We have not yet reached the point where we are actually a dwindling population, but we have reached the point where the working section of our population is dwindling. Young people coming forward into industry are being outnumbered by the old people going out of industry. That is the situation which it is vitally necessary that we should recognise in connection with this problem. Added to it is the circumstance that, for the first time in the history of this country, we require a peacetime Army to defend us. In the old days we did not keep an Army in peacetime to defend ourselves. The balance of power did that for us. We had an Army on the Continent to take the first blow. We started every war unprepared, but we won the last battle. That was not just coincidence; it was cause and effect. We won because we had been unprepared. Our unprepared ness arose from the fact that we had used peace to build up our economic strength.
Our economic strength was the measure of our potential reserve, and towards the end of the war that potential reserve became conclusive, and that is why we won the last battle. Today that situation no longer exists. We have to be in a position to take the first brunt, and as there seems no reasonable possibility of a balance of power in Europe, that means that we have to look upon our Army as something which must be maintained and be ready for an immediate emergency. It is not merely a question of the number in the Forces, but of the Forces being equipped for immediate action. That means constant change of equipment, and great numbers of people making that constantly new equipment. In the old days it was quite all right to have a cavalry regiment. Nobody imagined that the horses would be used in war, but it amused the soldiers, and the weapons which would actually be used in war would be made after the war had started when we knew what weapons would be appropriate. We cannot afford those luxuries now.
Secondly and here is a matter which again is vital, we are now a great debtor 756 nation. Before the war we were a great creditor nation. When you are a creditor nation there may be something against bringing in additional people to share the credit, but when you are a debtor there seems to be less against bringing in additional people to share the debt. Lastly, there is the question, referred to by my hon. Friend, of this new policy of full employment. Let us remember that full employment is an economic experiment which is being tried for the first time in a free community. We have no past experience of that experiment, which I believe can only work if it is coupled with an immigration policy. Full employment means that people have a choice of jobs, and when they have that choice I cannot conceive that there will ever be enough people who will choose the bottom jobs. There will always be a shortage of labour in the basic industries so long as there is full employment in a free economy, and that situation can only be overcome by a constant inflow from those nations where the standard of living is lower and where our bottom jobs appear to be jobs of luxury.
That, then, is the long-term background of this problem, but there is an immediate short-term situation. It took Dunkirk to tell this nation that there was a war on, and I believe it has taken this coal crisis to tell this nation that it is, in economic terms, fighting for its life. My own view is that if we take our chance now we shall be able to look back in history and see this as one of our crucial dates, one of our great dates, the date when, after the reaction of war, this country pulled itself together. I believe that spirit is abroad. The general reaction of the public to this crisis has been the most heartening thing which has happened since the war. One has felt a new spirit abroad in the streets, and I believe that today this Government can do anything, and the public will accept anything, which is necessary to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.
Just as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) after Dunkirk could ask anything of this people, I believe that is the situation again today, and that now is the time to take this vital decision. I do not, of course, suggest—I am glad that a Member of the Cabinet is here—that we can suddenly switch a great body of people from Germany to England. That takes time. The decision is what matters, and the 757 decision can be taken at once, and now is the time to take that decision because the country is prepared for it. Let us say, "These people are coming here." I know it will take time to train them. Of course it will. We shall not get immediate production from them. I know there is a language difficulty, but there was a language difficulty in the war and we got over it. Troops of many languages fought together splendidly in our service, and language is just as big a problem In fighting as in working. There is also the question of finding accommodation for them. We found accommodation for 2,000,000 Americans, and we can do this today if there is the heart and spirit. We can do this job, but we can only do it if we take the decision now when the time is appropriate for decisions.
I urge very much that this thing be dealt with After all, these are people who are enduring and have endured with great constancy appalling and hopeless conditions for a number of years because their love of freedom was so intense that they preferred any conditions under the aegis of a free Government to returning to conditions which were not free. Surely that is the spirit and the stuff of which we can make Britons.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
I rise to support as strongly as possible the plea to which the House has just listened from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) I cannot understand why the Government are so hesitant upon this particular subject. It is a fact that there is at the present moment a shortage of something in the region of 500,000 workers, and in certain industries where they are vitally wanted. In addition men are going overseas every day to emigrate to the sunny lands they visited in the course of the war. It would, of course, be a most terrible thing if we ever had to do anything to discourage emigration to our own Empire, but I do not believe we can afford the loss of this vigorous young blood of our nation unless we replace it by something comparable.
We must not forget the question of the German prisoners, of whom we have 340,000 working in this country. In a year or two they will have gone back to their own country unless we take positive steps to offer them some inducement to defer 758 their return and stay with us longer. What we are going to do for labour when these German prisoners have left this country, I do not know. I do not know how we shall get the harvest in when they have gone. We shall feel the shortage of labour all over this country in consequence of their departure.
That is an additional reason for realising that this figure of half a million workers of which we are at present short will in due course be very much greater. I cannot understand how it is that the Government are so reluctant to take these skilled men, Lithuanians, Letts, Esthonians, Poles, Yugoslavs, Czechs, or whatever they are, in these displaced persons camps in Germany. The action of the Belgian Government in taking 15,000 to 20,000 skilled miners into the Belgian mining industry was an extremely sensible decision, and I wish this Government would do likewise.
Not only are the economic grounds for taking skilled men of good character to fill our own labour shortage irresistible, but there are also very strong ethnographical reasons for doing so. We are suffering from the falling birth rate of the late 20'S and 30's and have no fewer than 200,000 numerically surplus women. I believe that is an unfortunate sociological factor.
§ It being Four 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. Michael Stewart.]
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay
I believe that women should have the choice of marrying or remaining single. On the assumption that we should take mainly single men, there are the strongest possible ethnographical reasons for having an infusion of vigorous new blood from overseas at the present time. Many years ago, when the population of this country was only seven millions, we took no fewer than 100,000 Huguenots into this country, and we have very greatly benefited from doing so, and also from other foreign blood at different times in the course of our history. I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that the superficial difficulties of language and accommodation could be overcome with good will and determination. There is hutted accommodation for gang labour in this country, which, to many of these men would be luxury compared with conditions with which they 759 have had to put up, even if it is not suitable for the British workman and his family.
I believe a great number of families in this country, if asked to do so, would be prepared to billet young single men of good character who wanted to come to work in this country. To my mind the case, both on economic and ethnographical grounds, is overwhelming, and it is largely prejudice which makes the Government and the leaders of labour so unwilling to have them in this country. The best service the Government could render would be to make more information available about these people, who form so valuable a potential labour source. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply that a strong Parliamentary Mission should go out at an early date to the British zone of Germany to visit these displaced persons camps and to form an opinion of the men and women who are available and wish to come to this country. I hope the Government will take a more sensible and reasonable attitude on this important question
§ 4.5 p m
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedtord)
It is refreshing to find both sides of the House in common agreement in regard to this very important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). As I see it, one of the difficulties, which must be resolved, above all others, is that of ensuring that there is a complete mental readjustment on the part of the people of this country towards the immigration of a large body of foreigners. There are far too many people who are resistant to the idea of large numbers of foreigners coming here. I ask my right hon. Friend to give me an assurance in this respect. He must do all he can to remove this wretched prejudice. I am bound to say that on the part of the Government there has been so far a certain lethargy and apathy in their approach to this question. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned a figure in the region of 1,250,000 as the number of people urgently required in addition to the labour force which we have already. In the White Paper published by the Government recently, 657,000 workers were designated as being necessary if our under-manned industries were to be brought back to the 1939 level.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
It excludes the needs of agriculture and does not take into account the very great changes which have taken place since 1939. Another factor, which we would do well to bear in mind in our approach to this problem, is that to leave these people rotting in idleness, eating their hearts out in Germany, Austria and Italy, will lead to then morale and eventual usefulness being diminished. Rapid action is necessary it that disaster is to be avoided. My hon Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in his altogether excellent speech, pointed out that in the important age group so far as industry is concerned, there is likely to be an inadequate number of people to draw upon for some years ahead. That age group is, I reckon, from 18 to 44. In the British and American zones of Germany and Austria alone, there are some 250,000 men and 180,000 women in that age group and many of them are already trained workers.
Recently U.N.R.R.A. carried out an occupational survey of people in this group. It may interest the House to know that it covered no fewer than 140 separately listed occupations. Figures for a few of the most important categories are as follows: fully trained miners, 850; bricklayers. 1,808; carpenters, 5,569; electricians, 3,467; plumbers— and we could do with them just now—530; textile workers, 2,220; and nurses, of whom we are particularly short, 3891. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) mentioned that Belgium has already taken action to enlist workers in her industries.
Might I warn my right hon. Friend the acting Leader of the House against a situation in which other countries are going to steal a march on us in this direction? The trade unions, and my right hon. Friend has great influence with them, must be persuaded to scrap their unimaginative approach to the whole question. We on this side of the House; talk about Conservatism in some degree, the trade unions of this country are the most conservative body in it, and it is just as well that we should recognise that and recognise that they should adopt a more liberal approach to this matter. Again, the Home Office has for many years. though not so much lately, I am 761 glad to say, shown a too nationalistic approach to immigration, and must now reckon with the dire necessity of taking into our population, and assimilating into our national life, hundreds of thousands of people of other nationalities and races.
Our island population will be refreshed, enriched and strengthened if that process is carried through in an orderly and proper fashion. I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the several points I have made, and to urge on the Cabinet rapid and drastic action so that the economy of this country, which we want to maintain, build up and establish for the future, can the better be built up and established by bringing these people over here.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I am sure that, if the Government would arrange for the immediate entry of a considerable number of these persons into his country, they would achieve three very valuable purposes at one stroke. In the first place, they would he offering hope and salvation to a number of people who are now, as one hon. Member has said, rotting in idleness; in the second place, they would be saving the very considerable expense of keeping these people in Germany; and, in the third place, they would be helping to supplement the deficient manpower situation in this country.
I am thinking now, not of a seven figure number, but of a six figure number, It is very instructive, if we are thinking of that order of magnitude, to compare the skill and aptitude of these people, longing for nothing so much as useful employment, with the White Paper published a few days ago showing the lack of precisely these same skills and aptitudes in this country. I am sure that the objections which have been made are nothing but easily surmountable difficulties. Take, for example, that of the admixture of foreigners in our country. Look at the numbers. If we want to know what it is that can change the character of a population, we have only to look at the emigration from Europe to America before the first world war, that is to say, 10 million people into a population of 100 million in the space of about 10 years. We are not thinking in numbers of that kind.
762 I suggest that we do not want anything that will take as long as the proposal that was made by one hon. Member that there should be a Parliamentary Commission. The Government know enough to act at once. What is needed is an adequate number of representatives of the Ministry of Labour to go over with immediate authority to ask for volunteers and to select people up to a certain number with the requisite skill. I think that they should select them and appoint them even if there is not the immediate possibility of transfer and absorption for all. If the men are selected anti know that they are selected, the chances of their maintaining their moral, which in many cases they have maintained remarkably well in spite of ad their difficulties, will be greater. In present circumstances they cannot be expected to maintain it much longer.
§ Sir A. Salter
Yes, with their families. I have been to some of the settlements, and I think it would be impossible for any hon Member to see these men and women, who have had nothing but tragedy in the past and blank uncertainty in the future, without being deeply impressed at the manner in which they have maintained their morale. When I saw them they were organising things in their settlement, and as I talked to them—many of them spoke English—I came to the conclusion that they were ideal emigrants to come either into this country or into any other country which needs to supplement its manpower position. I am sure if we take the action that I am urging now we shall gain an enormous benefit for ourselves in the first instance for we could incidentally, if we act quickly, get the best of the pick, and a very good best it is. Further, I think we should, by doing so, initiate competition amongst other countries who have a desire for emigrants, and that would collectively solve this extremely difficult and expensive problem which we have now upon us
§ 4.17 p.m
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
I will not make a speech and come between the House and the Lord Privy Seal, whom we are anxious to hear, but I should like to emphasize the very remarkable unity shown in every quarter of the House on this subject, and call attention to the remarkable letter which appeared in "The Times" 763 this morning from Professor Lionel Robbins, which is a summary of an article of his in the "Lloyds Bank Review." In that letter he demonstrates most cogently in my opinion that, so far from being the cause of unemployment, the introduction of foreign labour into this country under our present circumstances—and whether we follow the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr Paget) in this connection is another matter—is one possible way by which we can escape unemployment in this country
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I did not expect to be in a position to have to reply to this Debate this afternoon, though I am quite ready to do so. I welcome very much this unity of feeling on what in my younger days used to be a very controversial problem about emigrants into this country. I fail to understand why it should be thought that His Majesty's Government are somehow against the employment of foreign labour in this country. That, I assure the House, is not true. As to forcible repatriation, no one has ever charged us with being guilty of that. Indeed, we could not in any circumstances force people to go back to their own country if conditions there are repugnant and dangerous to them.
We are faced, as we all know, with an entirely new situation in this country—a shortage of labour. Up to now we have suffered from a shortage of employment possibilities for the labour that was available, and, therefore, we have to accept the view that we must recruit labour forces from all appropriate quarters. This country has always offered asylum to people who have suffered from political or religious persecution. Reference was made to the Huguenots. Now, we are faced with the problem of directly recruiting people, if we can, from countries abroad. I am not so sure that I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), that we should not bother the rest of the world, and that the problem ought to be dealt with by us, France and the United States of America. Of the three nations, believe me, we seem to get the heavier end of the stick we are called upon to bear very heavy responsibilities, about which we make no complaint; it is our misfortune, I am afraid. It is historic that it should be so.
§ Mr. Greenwood
We are anxious to deal with this problem, but I would ask the House not to minimise the difficulties. The difficulties are substantial. My right hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) said it was important to send Ministry of Labour people abroad. Well, we have Ministry of Labour people abroad. I hope he is not challenging that statement.
§ Sir A. Salter
What I said was "an adequate number with full authority immediately to select." Those are two different things, I think.
§ Mr. Greenwood
With regard to the latter, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is developing, and developing very rapidly. Whether the numbers are adequate I should not like to say, but if he were to ask me in a fortnight's time what the numbers are, perhaps I could say. It is very difficult to judge adequately. The number of people who can choose foreigners for a job is as limited as manpower in other directions. The difficulties are substantial. It is perfectly true that the language difficulty did not lose us the war, but it is equally true that the language difficulty over here in peacetime is one of which account has to be taken. That is not so in wartime, when we have unanimity amongst men who speak the same language. That is one thing. If we have little pockets of people, or single individuals, employed on a particular job, the language difficulty is of some importance; and so are the customs, and so on. The idea that the question of accommodation is an easy one is absurd. Believe me, it is not easy. It is a very substantial difficulty, and a very important difficulty that lies in our way at the present time.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am coming to that point. I wish my hon. Friend would not be so impetuous. At the present time, in the development areas, where we have on occasions to bring in new labour, the accommodation of our own people is a very difficult question. It is no good talking about billeting and lodgings. The idea that we can use huts, and so on, is completely fantastic. We examined that 765 possibility ourselves, as a means of providing accommodation for our own home labour force and in connection with the housing of the people. What is the use of an ex-American camp with accommodation for 5,000 people that is 15 miles away from a railway station, and 20 miles from any industrial centre where people are needed? Believe me, I am satisfied about this, and I have given some little attention to it.
§ Mr. Stokes
If I provide my right hon. Friend with a list of camps within five miles of Ipswich, will he have another look -it it?
§ Mr. Greenwood
Of course, I will I am not turning this down out of hand. All I am saying is that we are talking of 250,000, or 2,500,000, which is double the original estimate. I have often been reproved for saying rash things about pounds, shillings and pence. My hon. Friend does not mind much whether it i, one and a half million, or two and a half million, I can assure him that all the hutted accommodation available could not meet the situation, and that we should find on our hands, not what everyone desires, a working population, but a population which we should have to keep.
There is no prejudice on the part of the Government against the employment of foreign labour. There was some reluctance on the part of the trade union movement, which is a reluctance I perfectly well understand; perhaps it is not yet fully recognised by everyone, that instead of having a standing, idle army of labour, we are now wanting more recruits for our army of labour, which is a new situation. It is not without interest that the National Union of Mine Workers have agreed and are prepared to accept Poles. Other unions ate coming into line, and negotiations have been going on now for some time with regard to the employment of foreign labour. The unions are perfectly entitled to argue that these people should not be used to 766 break down existing conditions, and, therefore, that they must be treated, as far as pay and conditions are concerned, on an equality basis, and, secondly, if it should be—and this is an ever present fear in the minds of the working people—that it comes to days of unemployment, they will be the first people to be dispensed with. That seems perfectly reasonable, but these things take a good deal of working out.
We are now in a position where there are tremendous possibilities and capacity for development and production, and there are shortages of either equipment or labour. I would not myself think it was right that we should take upon our shoulders—we welcome all the willing labour that will come to this country— a sort of major responsibility for this. Plans are in progress now for displaced persons to go to parts of the Empire, America and elsewhere. That is all to the good. Reference was made to the use of German prisoners. Of course we are using German prisoners, but this nation cannot rebuild with permanent slave labour. The idea that we should keep German prisoners here to fill the gap which might be filled with greater technical efficiency in all kinds of ways, is an idea we cannot accept, nor would I personally be willing to accept unexamined any German prisoners who wished to stay in this country, until I was satisfied that some might not be cells to be used to the national disadvantage. We are repatriating German prisoners. The Germans should build their own life, and work for their own living in their own country. I deplore the view that we should maintain here by compulsion, for what appears to be an unlimited period of time, German prisoners of war to help our agriculture. That view surprises me.
§ It being Half-past Four o'Clock, MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order