HC Deb 30 June 1953 vol 517 cc358-68

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

11.27 p.m.

Mr. Ian Winterbottom (Nottingham, Central)

I rise tonight to urge the Government to support the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration which, at the moment, Her Majesty's Government are ignoring and which is little known to almost any hon. Member of this House, or anybody outside. The only source of information about this organisation which it is easy to find is through the American Press; our own newspapers, due to limitation of newsprint, have little to say on the subject.

As an introduction, perhaps I should remind hon. Members that it is an offshoot of the International Refugee Organisation, which was wound up at the end of 1951, and which, during its 4½years of life, registered 1,619,000 displaced persons. It managed to move to their homes 1,209,000 of them, but when it was wound up, no fewer than 410,000 former displaced persons still remained unsettled and still lived in camps in the Western Zones of Germany.

The I.R.O. had two successors. First, the High Commissioner for Refugees, who took over the legal and political protection of these 410,000 unfortunate people, and then one of those "alphabetical" organisations of which there are several today, the Provisional Inter-Governmental Committee for Migration in Europe, which took over the movement fleet and the movement organisation of the old I.R.O. That particular fleet, I would remind hon. Members, moved 840,000 persons overseas in 4½ years.

The I.R.O. was supported by the United States Government, as well as our own Government, but when the I.R.O. was wound up, our policy became divided. The United Kingdom Government put its money on the High Commission for Refugees, but the U.S. Government put a very much larger sum into the funds of the Provisional Inter-Governmental Committee. They intended this successor organisation to have a wider scope than had the movement organisation of the old I.R.O.

There were a series of conferences under the aegis of the I.L.O. in Geneva to study the whole question of migration from Western Europe and the political problems caused by surplus populations in Europe itself. Following these conferences, the new successor organisation was given the job not only of moving the hard core of refugees settled overseas but also of moving abroad the surplus populations of Western Europe. It started work in 1952 and in its first year of operation it had the quite considerable achievement of moving 77,000 of these people abroad. That organisation has struck roots and it has started on its second year of operation.

At its most recent annual conference a resolution was accepted changing its name into the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration. It ceased to be provisional and is now permanent. The programme this year is to move 120,000 people from Europe overseas. It has an administrative budget of 2,174,000 dollars and an operations budget of 34,600,000 dollars. Twenty-two nations are members of the Inter-Governmental Committee.

I said that 400,000 displaced persons remained when the I.R.O. was wound up, but we must not think that the problem was static at that point. The flow of refugees did not stop with the winding up of the I.R.O. They continued to flow, as hon. Members know, from Eastern Germany, from Czechoslovakia and other nations behind the Iron Curtain. As the tension in these countries rises, in my opinion the flow will increase. There is also a special American fund to reward individuals from behind the Iron Curtain Who are willing to risk the flight to the West. The bulk of these refugees have come into Western Germany. In all, since 1945 over 9 million expellees and refugees have come into Western Germany.

These men, who during a period of absolute control of our zones in the West were prevented from forming a political organisation, now have their own organisation and their own political party. In my opinion that political party will become an ever more important factor in the political life of Western Germany. These men are not, on the whole, rational beings. They are men who have lost everything. They are men filled with an irrational resentment of their lot. They will not behave as reasonable beings. In my opinion they are the most dangerous element in Western Germany today. They will be filled for our lifetime with a desire to return to their homelands, and irredentism is a very powerful political emotion.

That is the situation in Western Germany. The pressure of population caused by refugees is not the only dangerous factor in this field. Surplus populations anywhere build up a social pressure which can explode. There is the surplus population in Italy. Much nearer home and a direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government are the surplus populations of Malta and Cyprus. Malta is a great problem. It is an island which can support a population of 250,000 and has now 315,000 people on it. In fact, when the actual funds available for reconstruction are finished in a year or two Malta will be in a desperate plight.

We are responsible for Malta. We have done a great deal to help her, but just pumping in funds alone will not solve her difficulties. I maintain that we are doing far too little to help these various nations in Western Europe to overcome their problems. I know that the size of the problem is so great that it causes emotional exhaustion; millions of people cease to mean anything. But the hard fact is that they are a great social and political problem.

I have raised this matter in Question time, and the Minister of State, in reply to a Question of mine, asking what we were doing to assist Western Germany in dealing with the problem of refugees, said that Her Majesty's Government are considering what part they can play in any practical measures, in common action, to help with this problem. As far as I can see from replies to other Questions, I think they are still considering what they can do. I am afraid that consideration is not enough. I do not want to read the Under-Secretary a lecture on the political situation, because he is better informed than I am, but he will agree, I think, that the situation in Italy, Germany and elsewhere is dangerous.

Can anything be done to help these nations? I maintain that it can. If we are able to transfer a proportion of this population to other parts of the world where the population which is at present there is too small to develop the existing resources—for instance, Australia, Canada and South America—we can go some way to reducing the population pressures in Western Europe and at the same time give to these other empty nations that population which they wish to have. The two problems are complementary. If we can solve one, we can solve the other.

I know that there are widely differing views upon the desirability of large-scale migration from this country, but I am not going to raise that point here this evening. I know, too, that there are very great problems about settling large numbers of people in the receiving countries. But one of the facts of the situation is that the Governments of Canada and Australia both realise that they cannot receive all the British nationals that they would like to have, for various reasons, and that the British nationals that they can have do not satisfy their needs. For this reason they are turning towards this new organisation, the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration, to help them to recruit a good type of worker for settlement in their countries. I think an indication of the importance that Australia places upon this new organisation is the fact that her delegation to the Inter-Governmental Committee this year is led by Sir Douglas Copeland, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Australia, a very distinguished man.

I think that if the Under-Secretary will consult his colleagues at the Commonwealth Relations Office he will find that the Australian Government would welcome the presence of a British delegation on the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration. They feel that our presence there would support them in their work and would certainly enable the Commonwealth to act in concert in that field. Canada has done more than simply consider what can be done to help Western Germany to overcome her refugee problem. She has, in fact, already modified her immigration laws to take a greater proportion of East German refugees. The Under-Secretary will have noted that one of the points that resulted from Dr. Adenauer's visit to Canada was the expressed willingness of the Canadian Government to take a larger proportion of German refugees.

There is also one other point worth noting. The German Government itself is looking towards migration as one of the means to help herself and her refugee problem. The German Government has laid down priorities in the movement of people from Western Germany, and among priorities the movement of farmers and their families stands very high. Large numbers of East Prussian farmers have moved into West Germany, where they are employed on menial work. They are not able to follow their trade. And the West German Government realises that these men will become dangerous unless they are moved elsewhere. I hope the Under-Secretary will agree that these men will be far better employed producing food, rather than doing menial work among the rubble, and nursing their resentments.

I speak in the main from the Commonwealth angle, but in fact South America is also anxious to take large numbers of people from Western Europe, particularly Italians, and they too are turning towards the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration to assist them.

Now, here are two problems which, as I have said, are complementary, and machinery here exists which can help to mitigate both. It is far too much to say that the Committee will solve these problems, but it may reduce them to manageable proportions—and that, I think, is all we can hope to do.

Now, I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary, in his reply, would say why Her Majesty's Government seems to be unable to support this organisation. If we contribute to the administrative budget, not the operational budget—it is carried in the main by the United States—we can become members of that organisation. The United States pays one-third of the administrative budget, Canada pays 9 per cent., and Australia 6|. Now let us assume that the United Kingdom only pays one-half of the American contribution—I should say that is a fairly safe guess as to the size of our contribution—in that case we will carry one-sixth of the administrative budget, which would be of the order of £120,000 a year—not a very great sum.

Cannot we afford this sum? Let us leave on one side our duty to Cyprus, to Malta, our interest in a stable Europe, our interest in a strong Australia and Canada. Surely, bringing the thing down to the very lowest level, we would, by participating in this organisation, be able to earn a significant sum in hard currency by acting as one of the most important agents of the Committee who are moving these people around the world. There is already one oddity in their movement organisation. One steamer in Sydney is making four trips from the United Kingdom this summer with migrants from the United Kingdom to Canada.

I think the Under-Secretary and the House will agree that the moral reasons are the real ones in this case. I think it is important that we should not, as it were, dissociate ourselves from the problems of Western Europe. We must not sit smugly behind the Channel, as we have done for many centuries. We must be seen to care about their problems, but in a sense of solidarity with them. And I think one of the ways in which we can seek to care about their problems, by which we can show we are doing something to assist them to overcome problems far greater than any we have here, is to become a member of this organisation. I do urge the Under-Secretary tonight, even if his reply has to be somewhat guarded, to try and persuade his colleagues to bring Her Majesty's Government to support this important and developing organisation.

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I want, if I may, to support very warmly what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winter-bottom) has said. My personal experience of refugee and migration work goes back to 1921, when Dr. Nansen was appointed High Commissioner of the League of Nations to deal with this problem. I worked for him, and know what he did for refugees in Europe, settling 1½million Greek refugees who came out of Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace, and later in his work for the Armenians and others.

After the second war I had to represent His Majesty's Government in U.N.R.R.A. and I had to help in the establishment of I.R.O. That experience has left me with the profound conviction that there is no human misery like that of the refugee. It has left me with the conviction that there is no waste of human life and human skill so great as that involved in leaving refugees without a new life and a new home. On that ground alone I support my hon. Friend's plea that Her Majesty's Government should become a member of I.C.E.M. I believe it is in our interest on every ground to do so. It is our interest that the work of I.C.E.M. should continue and expand.

These refugees tend to contain a very high proportion of what are sometimes called intellectuals—trained technicians, doctors, professors and others. Einstein was a refugee. They often render great service to the countries to which they go.

Every person who is unemployed in Europe and who is moved across from Europe to the other side of the Atlantic helps to close the dollar gap. If we allow £100 per annum per head spent in Europe in keeping the refugee alive—which is a low enough rate of subsistence—and if I.C.E.M. can move 120,000 refugees a year, that is £12 million a year on Europe's dollar balance—not a negligible item. As my hon. Friend said, many of these people are agriculturists who are going under arrangements made by I.C.E.M. to increase food production on the other side of the Atlantic.

My hon. Friend said that every refugee who is taken from Germany and Italy and given a new life overseas helps to relieve a strain and tension in those countries which could become very serious and which, if there were a world unemployment crisis, might be explosive material of the most dangerous kind. My hon. Friend showed conclusively the political importance of this work. What I.C.E.M. is doing is a real safety valve—and it is on a very considerable scale. On 30th April the 45,000th refugee passed through the Bremen centre to go to Canada and on that day 2,200 Germans left Bremen for Canada.

I.C.E.M. is opening new perspectives on the other side of the Atlantic. In co-operation with I.C.E.M., the Argentine has a five-year plan for colonisation in which 600,000 acres are to be reserved and developed for European settlers. Colombia is opening the valley of the Rio Magdalena. Brazil has told I.C.E.M. that she is starting next year a 45 million dollar programme of colonisation. Venezuela has a large-scale colonisation plan, for which she needs international help. I.C.E.M. is not only opening new perspectives; it is also establishing for the first time a real international control of migration, which means that the migrant will have a guarantee of a fair deal as he never had in times gone by. With the joint co-operation of the International Bank and other agencies, the perspective for the settler is far better than anything that has ever existed before.

I beg the Government to think of both our short-term and our long-term interest in this matter. We went into U.N.R.R.A. It cost us £170 million, but in return we got £2,000 million worth of reconstruction which served British interests in every quarter of the globe and which led on to Marshall aid. Let us recognise that an investment in this I.C.E.M. work may in the long run give the same kind of return.

11.50 p.m.

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

May I say at the outset that I fully share the views expressed by the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), and the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom), about the tragedy and the urgency of the refugee problem in the international sphere. This adjournment debate, however, is too short for me to give any adequate reply to a case of this kind, but I will deal with the points which have been raised.

The hon. Member who raised this adjournment debate, divided his argument into two sorts. There was the argument of self-interest and the argument of altruism. Regarding the argument of self-interest, the hon. Gentleman said that we should be able to recoup a great deal of the money we would be investing in this organisation by providing the wherewithal for transporting these refugees to their places of resettlement overseas. I do not agree with him there. If we were to be a member of I.C.E.M., we should not get preferential treatment. We should hold no special privileged position as the shipping nation, nor is any preferential treatment given under the Charter of the Organisation for the shipping of member States. Therefore, we are in no worse position to earn dollars or foreign currency for transporting these refugees if we remain outside the organisation.

Concerning migration, we have reluctantly had to make a cut from £500,000 to £150,000 in our grant to the Australian Assisted Passages Scheme. It might seem to some people, particularly to the Australians, invidious that we should launch into a scheme for transporting non-British migrants from Europe, the bulk of the migrants from Europe being non-British, before we restored, at least, some of the cut we have had to make in this Australian Assisted Passages Scheme. I should have thought, although I cannot speak for the Australian Government, that they would prefer some of the cut to be restored.

The real answer, and this deals with the hon. Member's altruistic point, seems to be this. The I.C.E.M. does not, under its present Charter, resettle refugees. It only moves and transports them. As I see it, the real problem in the whole refugee question is the matter of resettlement. For those who cannot resettle in Europe, some place outside must be found. The I.C.E.M. does not find it and it is because of the difficulties of resettling in other countries that there is, at the moment, no great queue of people waiting for movement to countries outside Europe, so far as my information goes.

By joining this organisation, we should not necessarily be helping to find means and places of resettlement. This country cannot find these means and places of resettlement. It is for other countries to do so, but, owing to political and economic conditions, this problem has not yet been solved. The problem of resettlement is the one which has to be solved. It is not primarily one of transportation. Nor, I claim, does our non-membership of I.C.E.M. necessarily cripple or embarrass that organisation financially for, indeed, it has a carry-over, in its administrative budget, of some 218,000 dollars from 1952 to 1953.

It may seem that our policy is rather coldly practical, but I do not think that anyone can seriously accuse the Government or their predecessors of any meanness in this or any other field. We supported U.N.R.R.A. to the tune of £153 million; we have supported the I.R.O., one of the predecessors of this organisation, to the tune of £21¾ million; U.N.I.C.E.F. to the tune of £350,000; the relief and works agency for Palestine refugees to the tune of £9½ million; U.N.K.R.A. in Korea with £3 million. At the same time we support N.A.T.O., O.E.E.C., the I.L.O., and the Council of Europe, all of which play a part in this story.

The hon. Member may say this is a paltry economy, but, of course, every economy can be so attacked, and if all the small economies the Government have had to make, some of them reluctantly, had not been made then Government expenditure, with rising costs, would have gone rocketing up. The position is regrettable, but we cannot, in our present financial circumstances, afford to contribute to this organisation. We have to scrutinise all the demands on our resources with the greatest care. Nevertheless, the points made tonight, with which I have great sympathy, will be kept fully in mind, and the Government's decision not to join this organisation is in no sense irrevocable. We hope circumstances, and in particular the financial position of this country, may change, and we hope that, if it does, we may be able to play a part and to make a contribution to the success of an organisation for which we have much respect and which we acknowledge is doing a good, valuable job of work in this important field.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Only the hon. Gentleman's concluding sentences were of any comfort to us, and I hope we may have an opportunity of raising the matter again at a very early date.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.