HC Deb 28 November 1951 vol 494 cc1494-6
18. Mr. David Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he proposes to take in an endeavour to persuade the United Nations organisation to hasten their programme of relief and resettlement of Arab refugees; and whether he will make a statement.

20. Mr. Basil Nield

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement as to the present arrangements for assisting Arab refugees from Israel; and in regard to compensation for loss of property.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

I apologise for the length of my reply.

Arrangements for relief are the responsibility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, on which His Majesty's Government are represented. They are, on the whole, satisfactory. According to my information, the health and general conditions of the refugees compare favourably with those of many of the normal inhabitants of the area.

As regards resettlement, the House may recall that the principle of resettlement, without prejudice to the right of the refugees to repatriation and compensation, was affirmed in the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2nd December, 1950, but the Agency cannot succeed in translating this principle into practice unless it receives the active cooperation both of the Middle East States where resettlement possibilities exist and of Member Governments who are able to contribute the necessary funds. His Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to achieve this.

So far, programmes have been authorised by the General Assembly on a yearly basis. After consultation with the Middle East Governments concerned, the Agency are now preparing a longer-term programme, and their report will shortly be submitted to the General Assembly. In the meantime, the Agency, which began the resettlement programme in June, is surveying certain projects in Sinai and Jordan.

Compensation for refugees is being dealt with by the Palestine Conciliation Commission. A General Assembly resolution of 14th December. 1950, directed the Commission to set up an office with the task of making detailed arrangements for the assessment and payment of compensation. An account of the work of this office will, it is understood, be included in the report which the Commission is due to submit to the present session of the Assembly.

Meanwhile the Israeli Government have recently stated publicly their willingness to negotiate with the United Nations on the compensation question outside the framework of a general peace settlement. This offer is, however, subject to certain conditions, one of which is that they shall receive international financial aid for the purpose. It is expected that the offer will also be referred to in the Commission's report.

Mr. M. Philips Price

Will the Under-Secretary of State bear in mind that the prospect of getting agreement with the Arab States to join in the Middle East Defence system very much depends upon a solution of this problem?

Mr. Nutting

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend said, in his speech on the winding up of the foreign affairs debate on 20th November: The United Nations must try to make a more effective attack upon this problem, for we should find that many of these hatreds which are so deep in the Middle Eastern minds would subside once that human problem was dealt with."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1951; Vol. 494, c. 344.]

Mr. Nield

Would my hon. Friend be able to state what the British representation is on this relief committee?

Mr. Nutting

Not without notice.

Sir Ralph Glyn

Why has the report of the Economic Mission of the United Nations into this problem never been published, although the Mission reported in 1949?

Mr. Nutting

I should like notice of that question.

Major H. Legge-Bourke

While welcoming very much the statement which my hon. Friend has made, may I ask him whether the request of Israel for international financial support in order to assist in this matter involves any change in the policy which was frequently stated by His Majesty's Government in the last Parliament, that we still look upon Israel as in duty bound to make recompense to the Arabs?

Mr. Nutting

I should like notice of that question.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will the Minister bear in mind that the provision of capital for settlement is an economic proposition, and that for the last 30 years very large sums have been spent on keeping refugees alive when smaller sums given more quickly would have settled them and made them self-supporting?

Mr. Nutting

I will bear that point in mind. As I said in my own speech in the foreign affairs debate we hope that the countries involved in this area will do more themselves to reach a settlement of this problem.