HC Deb 14 September 1948 vol 456 cc56-61

5.28 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I want to take advantage of this Debate as the only suitable opportunity of raising a question which is urgent and important. I regret that it is not possible for a Minister to be present, although I have been in touch with the Foreign Office and understand the reasons why it is not possible. I refer to the situation which has arisen in connection with the United Nations appeal for children, a matter on which the feelings of the people of this country and of hon. Members of this House were made very clear only a few months ago, when a considerable amount of pressure was put on the Government successfully in order that they should make a substantial grant towards a very important and magnificent work that is being done under the xgis of the United Nations. I am quite sure that the public in this country, and hon. Members of the House who supported that pressure for the Government grant, will be shocked to learn, if they do not know already—and I am afraid publicity has not been widespread—that it has now been decided to terminate this magnificent work at the end of the present year.

The United Nations appeal for children was created only as recently as 1947 by resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations in December, 1946, and the Economic and Social Council in March, 1947. Co-operating in the appeal are not only some 50 or 52 nations associated with the United Nations, but hundreds if not thousands of nongovernmental organisations, including labour organisations, women's organisations, church, farmers' and peasants' organisations, and organisation of all kinds. In fact, we have here for the first time in world history an instance of international co-operation on the popular level as distinct from the normal procedure of international activities at the purely diplomatic level. It is the only instance of a United Nations activity in which it is possible for the ordinary people of all countries, irrespective of race, colour, creed, politics or anything else, to appreciate that they personally, by their own individual efforts and group efforts, can participate in the great work of international co-operation and the building of world peace.

In the termination of the appeal, this is now all threatened, if not with destruction, at least with the greatest possible discouragement. It is particularly untimely that this proposal for the termination should have been made at the present time, because, in fact, although there are 52 countries co-operating together, with 30 dependent territories, many of the national and local campaigns are only now getting under way. It is obviously out of the question to suggest that a tremendous work of this kind, covering millions of the world's children, expectant mothers and others, could be organised and completed and the work finally disposed of in the space of 12 to 18 months or even two years.

In the course of recent months, since the appeal was launched, some tremendous results have been achieved amongst those 52 countries and 30 dependent territories. Apart from the fact that some 16 million dollars have already been collected in hard cash—and most of these funds are funds which have been collected for the purpose of despatching abroad assistance for distressed children overseas—the proceeds of the most important drives are not included in the figures given, because those drives are still going on. The contribution of the United States of America is not included in that figure and there are, in fact, some 26 campaigns still going on, while another 18 have still to be commenced.

I will give examples of what I mean. One small country, Iceland, has collected no less than the equivalent of £1 per head of her total population. Everything in that collection is going to children abroad. New Zealand has collected about 3s. 6d. per head of her total population and Norway about 3s. per head of her total population. Such remote countries as the Phillipines are contributing to this great appeal sugar and vitamin products; Ecuador is contributing banana flour, Cuba is giving sugar, and so on.

Nothing of this kind has been known in the history of the world before and the significant feature of it is that, whilst in other directions United Nations activities, regretfully, are meeting with tremendous diplomatic and political difficulties, in this particular case there are no diplomatic difficulties, no political divisions, no divisions of any kind. The people themselves are participating in the actual humanitarian work associated with the name of the United Nations and that, in itself, is probably more important than the actual physical results of the appeal.

It would be extremely regrettable, in my view, if the work were stopped now. It is doubly regrettable to me that the vote of our Government should have been passed in favour of the termination of the appeal at the end of this year, because what it means is that not only are we to terminate the appeal at a particular date—an early date—but that these 26 campaigns not yet under way and the other campaigns which are only beginning will be discouraged. The millions of ordinary people who are taking part will be discouraged by the fact that this appeal is something which is now dying; there is nothing vivid, nothing vital about it any longer, but it is something which is coming to an end.

It is important to know that so far as public opinion throughout the world has been able to express itself, that public opinion is entirely in favour of the continuation of the appeal. One hundred non-governmental organisations, representing some 300 million members, meeting at Geneva on 17th May this year, expressed strong support for the continuation of the appeal. The International Labour Organisation, representing as it does Governments, employers and workers, at its conference in San Francisco unanimously passed a resolution on 30th June, 1948, recommending the continuation of the fund. Again, the First World Health Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in July, 1948, urging the continuation of the appeal.

Now it has been decided, in view of all this, that the appeal should be terminated. As I understand the position, it was at the seventh session of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, at its recent meeting in Geneva, that a resolution was moved by the Australian representative that the fund should be continued and a further appeal launched in 1949. An amendment was put forward, an amendment which was, so far as I can gather, not very clear in its terms, and this amendment was carried by eight votes to seven, the eight votes including that of our own Government. There were three abstentions. It was, therefore, carried by a single vote with three abstentions.

I understand that the chairman was asked subsequently to interpret the position and he interpreted it as meaning that there would be no renewal of the appeal in 1949. I understand that a number of those who abstained and some who voted for the proposal then expressed surprise, saying that they had not interpreted the proposal as meaning the termination of the appeal at the end of this year. Nevertheless, that proposition now stands.

I hope the question is to be raised at the current meeting of the United Nations Assembly in Paris, when our Government will be expected to give its final decision, and I hope that between now and the time when the question is raised at the Assembly, there will be a sufficient expression of the opinion of the people of this country through the Press, in the House of Commons and elsewhere to convince the Government that the people of this country, along with the hundred non- governmental organisations, with the International Labour Organisation, with the World Health Assembly and with all those organisations and Governments which are urging continuation of this unique and magnificent work which is being done for international peace on a popular level, desire it to continue. I hope our Government will be given to understand very clearly that their vote at the Assembly should be cast and their voices should be added very strongly in favour of the continuation of this appeal and of the launching of a further appeal in 1949. In spite of the unavoidable absence of the Minister, I am glad to have had this opportunity to raise this subject this afternoon.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Warbey (Luton)

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) has raised this subject this afternoon and has called attention to the decision to terminate the United Nations appeal for children, a decision which I feel sure must have staggered the consciences of enlightened world opinion. As my hon. Friend has rightly said, this appeal was an activity of the United Nations which was not only producing practical results, was not only making a humanitarian appeal which gave no room for political difference, but it was one which brought the United Nations Organisation right down to the grass roots of individual humanity.

There has been no other activity which has so opened the possibilities for every man, woman and child throughout the world to co-operate together in a single act expressing what one might call the spontaneous good will of the world community. There has been a chance through this activity for ordinary individual human beings to feel that they were really part of a world community. I know that it was this conception of the United Nations appeal for children which specially inspired one who might be described, legitimately, I think, as the originator and creator of this great idea, namely, that great Norwegian Aake Ording. It was Aake Ording who, as worthy successor to Fridtjof Nansen, first put forward the idea at the time of the winding up of U.N.R.R.A. His idea was taken up enthusiastically and he was appointed as the first director of the appeal. It was the one thing which was saved from the wreck of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the one opportunity to carry on a work in which everyone could take part without those differences which threaten to rend the world again at the present time.

If this appeal were allowed to be continued, there is not the least doubt that its activities and influence would spread much wider than they have done up to now. As my hon. Friend said, there are many countires which have only just started their campaigns. There are other countries, like our own perhaps, where the appeal has not yet got right down into the roots of the people and where the sense of individual participation has not had full time to express itself. I most sincerely hope that the response of public opinion in this country to the news of the decision of the Economic and Social Council and to the attitude taken by His Majesty's Government on that occasion will be such as to make the Government realise that they have made a profound mistake.

I must say I really do not understand how the representatives of a Labour Government could have decided to vote in the way they did on that occasion. Here is a matter which involves no political pressure. It involves no additional burden on the British national Exchequer. It provides simply an opportunity for the British people and the peoples of the world to carry on a great act of co-operative humanity. How we can possibly take the attitude that such an activity should be discontinued baffles me. I hope that on serious consideration the Government will change their mind on this matter and will support at the General Assembly the continuation of the appeal.