HC Deb 26 April 1960 vol 622 cc114-54

7.31 p.m.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

I beg to move—

Mr. Speaker

I should have made it plain that I am not calling the hon. Member to move his Amendment.

[That this House, recognising the extensive needs which still exist among refugees in many parts of the world, and noting the generous response already made by all sections of the British people to the World Refugee Year appeal, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to increase its contribution to that fund to a sum not less than £500,000 and give a further and more generous contribution towards alleviating the plight of the thousands of Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco; and, while welcoming the recent relaxation in the health regulations which has allowed hardship cases to enter this country under sponsorship, during the World Refugee Year, is of the opinion that these facilities should be continued for so long as there is need, and urges Her Majesty's Government, when considering applications from refugees wishing to come to the United Kingdom, to give special consideration to those who are the victims of Nazi concentration and slave labour camps.]

He is entitled to discuss the subject matter on the main Question.

Mr. Roberts

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It will, no doubt, have been noted that the world refugee problem is receiving universal consideration. The response in the United Kingdom at present is most gratifying, but we are dealing with a problem which has touched so many people's hearts that I feel that Her Majesty's Government should at least make some additional contribution towards alleviating the plight of these people before the World Refugee Year comes to an end, on, I believe, 31st May this year.

A lot could be said about this subject. Many of my hon. Friends have seen the appalling misery of these poor people. We can all tell rather moving stories about them, and people have been roused by what they have heard, which is why the response to this appeal has been more than one would have expected.

This House, in particular, owes some kind of debt to the young men who first discussed the formation of a World Refugee Year. On 5th December, 1958, the United General Assembly adopted a resolution urging Governments to promote a World Refugee Year starting on 1st June, 1959, as a practical means of focussing interest on world refugee problems and to attract contributions and encourage national action. The idea originated with a group of young people in Britain, and it is wonderful to know that the idea started in this country. I am sure that those young people will have been amazed at the support that has been given to the idea throughout the United Kingdom.

What is a refugee? I am sure the more that one reads about this subject the more one wants to know about it. I do not look upon this as a political matter, although it is rather ironical that it is political issues which make refugees. Curiously enough, it was Lenin, when in exile, who said: A refugee is a man who votes with his feet. There is a bigger pedestrian poll today than ever before. They vote for freedom. We ignore their votes at our peril. It is strange to realise that the revolution in Russia was responsible for thousands of refugees. Why have these people been persecuted for so long? People are refugees owing to a political connection or belief, or because of membership of a political society, and therefore, being outside their own country, they do not receive the protection of their country. We have them in the Middle East, in the Far East, and on the Continent. They are all over the world. This has been going on not for one generation, but for quite a few generations.

Refugee problems have arisen throughout history as a result of war and revolution, and racial and religious persecution. The Huguenots came over in the seventeenth century bringing their crafts, ingenuity and skill. That was not all one-sided, for we gave them comfort and asylum and they gave us something which was of advantage to industry.

This problem should receive attention at an increasing momentum until it is completely solved. As a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917, 2 million people left Russia. Between 1890 and 1920 the Armenians were pesecuted by the Turks, resulting in 1 million of these people being scattered all over Europe. Most of us remember the Spanish Civil War quite well. This resulted in about a quarter of a million people leaving Spain and seeking refuge on the Continent. Some came to this country. So far, they have not been able to return to their own country.

Then, 400,000 German, Austrian and Sudeten Jews had to leave their country in 1959. In 1947, another half-million left that part of the world, some settling in this country and some in the Middle East. This has been one continuous process, particularly since the First World War. It is astonishing to realise that quite a number of Europeans are living in China, and many of these have now been forgotten.

In the name of humanity, I am surprised that the conscience of the world has not been roused much earlier than it has been. I am astonished, when we talk about civilisation and social advancement, to learn that we allow people to live in degradation and misery. I am sure that our feelings on this side of the House are equalled by the feelings of any political movement in the world, and I know that right hon. and hon. Members opposite feel the same sympathy. Her Majesty's Government have devoted a good deal of attention to the matter. Our appeal tonight, however, is that more should be done.

Three years ago, I was in Hong Kong. Anyone visiting Hong Kong, and seeing the squatters' camps there and the huts perched on top of buildings where people crowd together to live, cannot but feel moved by the appalling spectacle there. The poor Chinese people, of course, still burn joss sticks to keep away evil spirits and from time to time huge conflagrations break out, fire rages through the camps, and lives are lost, but, in a few days, the camps spring up again and the same conditions are repeated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gates-head, West (Mr. Randall) has been living as a refugee during the past week and he has recounted his experiences to me. He tells me that it is a considerable hardship to exist for two days in such conditions. How terrible it must be for millions of people to continue their lives, year in and year out, in such conditions.

In Hong Kong, the Government have done tremendous work, but, in spite of what they have done and what has been done from this country, the intractable refugee problem there is as severe now as it was two or three years ago. Before the war, the population of Hong Kong was about 1½ million. Today, it is 3 million. The only hope lies in more money and more visas. In that way, some amelioration of conditions in Hong Kong could be brought about. It is a massive problem, and we shall continue to speak about it until it is completely solved.

In the Middle East, the ten months' campaign between the Arabs and the Israelis, from April, 1948, until February, 1949, resulted in the flight from Palestine into neighbouring territories of nearly 1 million destitute Arab refugees. Those Arab refugees have endured appalling conditions for nine years now, in exile. The situation has become so stagnant there that the refugee has become an institution; the ration card is his only security. When thinking about this perpetual Arab refugee problem, it is well to remember that more than 400,000 Jews have been forced to leave their homes in Iraq, the Yemen and North Africa. They were not counted, as many of them found homes in Israel. What a complex problem it all is. It impinges upon some of our political difficulties, and, because the political issues are still unresolved and there is as yet no satisfactory settlement there, the future for the refugees seems hopeless.

The whole world faces a serious moral challenge. When one sees the conditions in which refugees live in Hong Kong or elsewhere, it is easy to be greatly moved, but, when one returns to a decent standard of life in one's own country, one tends to forget. No hon. Member on either side of the House will deny that, When confronted with the spectacle of how these unfortunate people have to live, he has said to himself, "Cannot we do something to help?"

In Europe, there is a great problem. Many of the refugees are chronic sick. Some of the children we see running about there were born in the refugee camps and have never known a home. Some local authorities in Britain are assisting in a small way. In my own constituency, we are giving a home to one family and helping to find work for them. A wonderful response is being made there and elsewhere in Britain, as I know very well. Much good work has been done by the United Nations. But much more could be done. When Russia reasserted her authority in Hungary, the obstacles were overcome. In 1956, when the trouble began—I shall not discuss the political aspect of it at all—250,000 people left Hungary. One hundred and eighty thousand went to Austria and 20,000 went to Yugoslavia. Special efforts were made to find new homes for them. Trade union leaders went to the Continent and arranged for people to be brought to this country, and they are now being assimilated with our own people. Some went to Canada, some went to Australia, and some went to the United States of America. By the end of 1958, there were only 15,000 left. We had dealt with 250,000 people out of Hungary.

Why can we not do something about the others? We can do it if we are determined. Admittedly, this country cannot do it alone, but our purpose in this debate tonight is to focus attention on the problem once again and to remind the Government that the people of Britain are still interested, as has been clearly shown by their reaction to the World Refugee Year.

Britain has always been a haven for the refugee. I mentioned the Huguenots, and I could cite many more examples. I appeal to the Minister. If we make even a small gesture here this evening, it will echo throughout the world. There are 78 countries associating together now on the refugee problem, but the World Refugee Year cannot go on indefinitely. It will succeed to some extent this year, and a tremendous effort has been made. The work of many of our local people in Britain deserves the highest congratulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams), just an hour ago, told me of what happened at one school where his daughter is a teacher. It was suggested that something should be done for the World Refugee Year, and in a short time that teacher raised £150.

This is not a political matter. The Government must realise that, if they are prepared to go a little further, they will have the full support of the whole country. Let us give that moral leadership about which so many hon. Members speak when discussing other political issues. How can we go to bed each night to sleep believing that everything is all right with the world? We know very well that it is not. By a determined effort, we can do a great deal towards solving this terrible problem.

Can we make a definite offer here this evening? I am sure that every hon. Member who will speak in this debate will support the World Refugee Year, but it is our job to do more than that. We must lead these unfortunate people out of the unreal into the real. It is our job to lead these people out of the darkness into the light. Only by talking about the problem and by galvanising people into action can we do this.

I hope that the Minister will at least give us some hope that more will be done before 31st May. I should like the Government to increase our contribution from £200,000 to £500,000. This would set an example. I know that this country has done much in the past. Whatever Government have been in power, there has always been a spirit of generosity. I am not criticising the Government. My own party, when it was in power from 1945 to 1951, also did a tremendous job for the refugees. From 1951 to 1960 much has been done for them. When I cast my mind back to 1939 I remember that millions of pounds were set aside to help Czech refugees. A kind of trust was formed to help them. I remember what was done for the Poles who fought with our countrymen and who have now become part of our life and of our character. They have been completely assimilated in our communities.

I appreciate all that and I thank the Governments of both parties for what they have done, but the object of this debate is to appeal that, as a gesture, our contribution of £200,000 should be increased to £500,000. People in Great Britain have responded far more than the organisers of the World Refugee Year anticipated. This House owes a a debt to all those organisations that have worked tremendously hard during the last eleven months of this year in helping to alleviate the suffering that exists, these festering sores, in different parts of the world. I trust that the Minister will say something which will give us a little confidence and I hope that something more will be done before 31st May.

7.53 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I think that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) has done a service to the House, to the country and to the cause of refugees scattered, as they are, in all parts of the world in raising this matter tonight. We should be grateful to him for the opportunity given to us of supporting, in general, his view.

I have no acquaintance with Hong Kong, but I know sufficient about that territory to know of the appalling congestion there. The Government of Hong Kong should be congratulated on the tremendous work that they are doing in dealing with refugees from Communist China. The hon. Member knows far more about the detail of this matter than I, but from such reading as I have been able to do I am overwhelmed with admiration for the way in which the Government of Hong Kong have tackled this extremely difficult problem.

The hon. Member mentioned Arab refugees from what used to be called Palestine. I think that the first speech that I made on being re-elected to this House in 1950 was on that problem. Both on humanitarian and political grounds, it seems to me essential that before we can get rid of our Middle Eastern problems we must first settle the refugee problem. It is extremely intractable. There is all the religious opposition between Jew and Arab. There is the political use by the Arabs of the refugee problem which makes it a political rather than a humanitarian problem. Unless our diplomats at the Foreign Office can in some way break through that impasse, I cannot see how that aspect of the refugee problem will be resolved.

From what one reads, one is appalled by the conditions in which refugees live. They have nothing to do. They are housed in camps. They are hopeless and helpless, and they are increasing in number.

Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)

Thirty thousand a month.

Sir J. Duncan

A solution of this problem is demanded from the world. I believe that if the refugee problem were solved it would be the first step towards a settlement of the political problem, in spite of anything else that may occur in these disturbed regions. They are certainly disturbed regions because, although they may be comparatively quiet at the moment, there is an element of danger which may explode in any of these countries.

I would impress upon my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State the necessity of keeping this matter very much in the forefront of Foreign Office policy, both here and at the United Nations. Meanwhile, I only hope that the contributions which we, the United States and other nations have made to keep these people alive—that is really all that they are doing—will continue. Her Majesty's Government have not a bad record in this matter. The British and United States Governments have been good, but I believe that some other Governments have not been good in trying to keep these people alive until a settlement can be reached.

I now come to the problem in Europe. I leave out the Algerian-Tunisian problem, which is mentioned in the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, because I do not think that he himself mentioned it. I hope that in the course of the solution of the war in Algeria, which is mainly a French matter, the refugee problem there will solve itself.

In July, 1958, I made a suggestion in the Scottish Grand Committee when I first heard that there was to be a World Refugee Year. It was not taken up, but I should like to repeat it in outline. It came to my knowledge that refugees left in Europe were not allowed to be transferred to any other country if one member of the family had tuberculosis. I suggested that Scotland, whose rate of tuberculosis has gone down miraculously in the last ten years and which now has empty sanatoria because patients are no longer available, should, as a gesture, set aside one sanatorium for refugees from Europe who have tuberculosis. We have the doctors, the staff and the up-to-date equipment, but in some sanatoria we no longer have the patients.

My suggestion was that this should be Scotland's contribution. I took it up with the Scottish Office and with the United Kingdom World Refugee Organisation, whose Chairman is Baroness Elliot of Harwood, but I have not had much success. It certainly would have been a gesture. There is probably a reasonable answer in that the refugees in the camps in Europe do not like to be separated from the rest of their families. My idea was that only the tuberculous member of the family should be brought over to Scotland and treated and cured, after which the family would be free to go to other countries which then would be willing to receive them. It was thought however, possibly rightly, that the families would not like to be parted, particularly from a child who was the one member of the family who had the tuberculosis. For that reason, nothing has come about.

I hope, however, that in spite of that gesture from Scotland being turned down, even though it may have been rejected on good grounds, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to say that, in addition to Sweden, we are willing to receive refugee families from the camps in Europe, even though one or more members of a family has a disease—tuberculosis seems to be the most common—which could be treated in this country, and to allow the whole family to come in.

I hope that if I cannot succeed in my appeal purely from the Scottish point of view, Britain will enlarge its welcome to the families while the one member of the family who has tuberculosis is being treated and that we will give them a welcome and give them housing and work so that they can become settlers in our midst.

The hon. Member for Normanton spoke of the Poles. Her Majesty's Government have a fine record concerning the Poles, and also the Hungarians. We have carried out the ancient liberal policy of Britain in welcoming refugees from political persecution. The problem is getting much more difficult, however, because this is now an overcrowded island. Although, for the time being, employment is good—it may not be quite so good in Scotland, but it is good overall—and the men can get jobs if they can be fitted in, the time may come when things are not so good. It is then that difficulty could arise. A Pole who, as a result of his efficiency, succeeds in becoming a foreman, might resent being told by the British who work under him that he must go so that the British may retain their jobs. That is the sort of problem that might arise in the future.

On the whole, however, Her Majesty's Governments, of either political complexion, have done remarkably well. I hope that the Government will continue on these lines and try to deal once and for all at least with the European refugee, even if they cannot at this stage deal with the Arab or with the Hong Kong refugee. The camps in Europe have been there quite long enough and it is time we got rid of them. With the co-operation of the United States and Commonwealth countries, and through the United Nations, we should have a real drive in this World Refugee Year to get rid of the problem, at least in Europe, and see what we can do in the future to deal with the political aspect in the Arab countries, in Palestine and in Hong Kong.

It is not entirely a question of money. So far, I understand, Her Majesty's Government have offered £200,000. A tremendous local effort is being made and the local interest which is inspired through it is likely to do more good than merely the extra £300,000 that the hon. Member for Normanton wants from Her Majesty's Government. It is a question of arousing the public, so that the British people as a whole can realise the problem. In their warmheartedness they would not only subscribe to the success of the World Refugee Year, but would welcome some of the refugees into their homes. It is not so much a question of an extra £300,000 from the taxpayer, but of stirring the interest and sentiment of the British people. If we get the British people's sentiments aroused, they will respond in the way that they always have done.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) on having introduced this subject, which to me means something much deeper than the introduction of an Amendment to increase by £300,000 the contribution Britain is making to the World Refugee Fund.

It is no exaggeration to say that if we had fully appreciated the meaning of helping refugees when the refugee problem was raised in this House some twenty-seven years ago, we might have been in a position to save millions of lives. If the imagination of the world had been stirred by some of the speeches that were made in those days, including a speech by a former Prime Minister who at that time was an outstanding back-bencher, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), we might have avoided a considerable part of the tragic circumstances which resulted from people not realising what it meant for men and women to be driven not only from their homes but into the torture of inhumane and horrific places, which eventually led to many of them—including some 6 million of my own coreligionists—losing their lives.

Therefore, when an Amendment of this kind appears on the Paper, I am not surprised to hear the kind of sympathetic speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). It is the type of speech that comes from Members in all parts of the House. It is a pity, however, that there is not a full House to discuss this topic, which touches one of the greatest principles of all religious and ethical people, namely, the belief that "I am my brother's keeper." For that is precisely what it amounts to.

I mentioned this at a dinner held recently by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has had a considerable amount to do in dealing with the problems, amongst others, relating to refugees. At that dinner the Duke of Edinburgh, in the course of a magnificent speech, himself referred to human relations. That is what we are dealing with tonight, and that is why I say that my hon. Friend is to be congratulated upon taking an early opportunity of bringing home even more vividly to the House and through the House to the country what, indeed, up to now has already been brought from the country to the House—in a significant way.

There are only a few weeks left till the end of World Refugee Year, as far as this country is concerned. Already amongst the British public is has been a very great success. When a few individuals made the suggestion of having a World Refugee Year the British public at once warmly supported the idea: with such fervour, indeed, that even we in this House and the Government found ourselves compelled—I do not say entirely involuntarily—to do something about it. Public opinion was so very strong that it would have been impossible, even if we had wanted to, to have ignored the urgency of World Refugee Year, and all that it means. From the outset that was appreciated generally throughout the country, but a little reluctantly, if I may say so, by the Government in so far as money was involved. I believe I am not complaining unduly, but £200,000 was a small sum to contribute towards such a very great and important issue.

Sir J. Duncan

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, of course, that is in addition to all the money the Government allocated towards, for instance, the Arab refugees?

Mr. Janner

I think that the Government, whether of one party or the other, have played their part admirably. I am not denying that for one moment. I say it of both parties. I recollect the days of the Labour Government, whom I had the honour to support, when some 90,000 Polish refugees were brought in. for instance.

But that is not the point. We came to a year in which we wanted to emphasise to the world and to our own people that this was a problem which should be met on a scale consistent with the grave nature of the problem itself.

I know what the answer is likely to be: we want the people in the country themselves, as individuals, to do a voluntary job. That, however, is not quite the point. The point is that we ought to set a lead, not only to our own people in Britain but to other countries, so that in other places they may do their utmost, as we have tried to do in the past. I am not in any sense trying to deprecate what has been done in the past, but this is a crucial year in which we have set about a specific task, and in which we ought to try at least to bring to an end the European tragedy of 100,000 people still living in or outside refugee camps after fifteen years of it.

It is unimaginable, I think, to most of us in the House or even in the country what that means. I doubt whether anyone can realise what it means to a person to be stuck for fifteen years in those camps, or even under worse conditions outside, among people who are civilised people and who, at the same time, feel a hopelessness and frustration in life which would reduce most of us, I think, to a state of desperation. That is the problem with which we are confronted.

I follow the hon. Member for South Angus in what he said and also pay tribute to the United Kingdom delegates at the General Assembly of the United Nations who took the initiative and succeeded in getting one of the biggest majorities in favour of introducing World Refugee Year. As the initiator of this great humanitarian venture, it was naturally the privilege of our people and that of the Government to see to it that the year was a success in Britain. The people, and the organisations representing the people, have done their duty. The original target of the United Kingdom Committee of £2 million has already been far surpassed. I think that now the sum raised is about £3 million, and the target has been doubled to £4 million, and there seems to be a very good chance of getting the £4 million before 31st May.

As compared with that, I am sure the official contribution by our Government is really not up to what it should be. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton is asking for is 12½ per cent. of what the people themselves have decided to contribute. Surely we ought to pay up that 12½ per cent.?

Other Governments, in spite of the amounts which have been contributed by their peoples, have given generously. I think we ought to pay tribute to some of the other countries' success—that of Norway, for example, which contributed a much larger sum per head of the population than even we have done.

Mr. Randall

They have given 3s. 9d. per head of the population.

Mr. Janner

Yes, 3s. 9d. per head of the population. Nevertheless, I would say that we can be fairly satisfied with the results in the private sphere, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr. Lindt, has expressed his deep gratification and his praise for the British effort.

Recognising this, we must not overlook that much remains to be done. There is justified hope now that the remaining camps in Europe will be closed in the next year or so, but there still remain 100,000 refugees from European countries, victims of the last war, and of its aftermath, living outside the camps, who have not been finally settled and who have to live in substandard dwellings and are hard put to it to earn sufficient to keep their families.

Experience with the refugees from Hungary has shown that once the imagination of the world is fired, even great problems can be solved fairly rapidly. It is a disgrace to our generation that fifteen years after the end of the war there are still victims who have not yet been able to find secure habitation, and yet the problem of the European refugees, as has been said, is a comparatively small one compared with that of refugees in other parts of the world.

I do not want to introduce any contentious matter which, rightly, has not been introduced up to now in this debate. It is a fact that there is the very large problem of the Arab refugees. I feel that I ought to say this, that for my part it seems much too much a political issue, the keeping of people in camps as a kind of political move. That is something which is tragic. I would only hope that some of those advances which have been made by Israel will be accepted by the Arab world so that they can sit down together to solve this problem. I hope the Arab world itself will take in with their own families their fellow Arabs in a similar way that Israel took to its bosom those who came penniless and, in most cases, in a very much more pitiful state, after having suffered torture in concentration camps, and who have been rehabilitated. More than a million refugees have been taken into Israel since the creation of the State of Israel.

This is a very large problem. All of us appreciate that and we are anxious to do what we can. We are also anxious to help in connection with the Chinese situation, which has already been mentioned. I will not enlarge further on that because I do not want to take undue time, although this is a matter which personally has caused me a considerable amount of anxiety and tragic thought for many years.

The House would also agree that, although funds will help to some extent, the obvious thing is to try to get people settled in countries and in homes where they will realise that they are human beings and not pitiful wrecks in a condition of statelessness which prevents their attaining that human dignity which we pledge to give all men and women through the efforts of the United Nations. History has proved again and again that refugees properly handled and treated are an asset to the countries which receive them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) will remember the Jewish refugees who came to South Wales and in Tonypandy and Treforest and elsewhere built up new industries which were of enormous help to the local residents, as did the Flemings and the Huguenots in the past. If people would only realise that the admission of refugees does not mean that the receiving country suffers, the point of view of all countries would be changed.

I say with some pride that there is one small State which has endeavoured to do something in that direction in recent years. It is one of the jewels in the crown of the United Nations: Israel, which, in spite of the terrific financial stress and strain under which it works, has tried to provide people with homes and make them feel that they are once more dignified human beings. The result has been startlingly successful. If the international community took that lesson to heart perhaps there would be no need for debates such as this.

We are coming to the end of World Refugee Year and I would ask the Government, even if only as a gesture, to give other countries a lead and increase their contribution by £300,000. Of course, it would be only a token amount in comparison with the vast pool of funds necessary, but it would be a lead to the rest of the world. If our country has not now the power of arms and the strength of armaments which at one time it had, it has a much greater asset—the force of conscience, the outlook which believes in treating human beings as human beings and in fostering human rights. Here is an opportunity for us to show in a modest way that this country in this respect stands where it always stood and that we are anxious that the world should follow us. I believe they will if we take the lead

8.25 p.m.

Mr. C. M. Woodhouse (Oxford)

I should like to say a few words about each of the two main questions which are embodied in the Amendment—the question of money and the question of the admission of refugees into this country. The two questions are, of course, closely related because the more refugees we decide to admit to the country the more money will have to be found. I am sure, from what has been said already in the debate, that I can confidently preface my remarks by claiming that there is no monopoly of sympathy or humanity on either side of the House in this matter. Probably I am not the only hon. Member who has been a kind of refugee, as well as having worked for other refugees. We all want to do the same thing and we are not so very far apart in how we want to do it.

The Amendment calls for a token larger contribution from the Government to the World Refugee Fund. I hope that this call will be successful. Indeed, I believe that it will be. But even when we call for such an increase, I hope that we shall not lose sight of one fact which I think sets this country apart from almost any other country in the world, and that is the vigorous tradition of private generosity and voluntary effort among British people, of which abundant evidence has been shown in the last year.

I have seen refugee and relief work being done in other countries with British private participation, financed by British private funds. I can think of several European countries which are not doing badly in the world today, where British charitable organisations are still at work with British funds with the co-operation of the Governments concerned, but with very little or any corresponding contribution from private sources or individuals in those countries. It is not because they have not the money, but because they have not the tradition of voluntary work. Their attitude is. "If the Government take care of this sort of thing, why should I bother?" Those countries are the poorer for the lack of a tradition of private generosity and we are the richer for having it.

When comparisons are made between what our Government give and what other Governments give, we should remember that in our case what the Government give is not the end of the matter, as it is in other cases. The private citizen and the taxpayer are one and the same person. I do not say this specifically on this occasion, but generally—that in the long run the more we contribute compulsorily as taxpayers the less we shall feel inclined to contribute voluntarily as private citizens, and that will be a great pity.

Perhaps I may be permitted to illustrate this with a personal reminiscence concerning an eminent Member at the time of the floods on the East Coast of England, when the Lord Mayor opened a fund which the Government agreed to double by subscribing pound for pound. I happened to have lunch with a member of the Government on the day when that decision was announced and I heard him say, "Only yesterday I sent my personal cheque for £10. I wish that I had known that we were making that decision, because then I need have sent only £5."

If Cabinet Ministers reason in that way, we cannot blame the man in the street for doing the same thing. It is this private form of giving that is our most valuable form of contribution, but that is not to say that the Government cannot go quite a way further than they have gone already without necessarily giving a bad example to the private citizen.

As to admissions into this country, as I know from the letters which I have received in my constituency, it will be a matter of private satisfaction that the Government have decided to increase the number of admissions and to relax the restrictions. But we must recognise that with the best will in the world the admissions which we can make into our overcrowded island will be no more than a drop in the ocean compared with the vast scale of the problem, and the little we can do will be applicable only to refugees in Europe. Indeed, the terms of the Amendment are specifically concerned with European refugees. They are more prominent in our imagination because they are nearer to us and because we have a clearer idea of their sufferings.

Even in their case we are only scratching the surface of the problem. There are millions more in Asia and Africa for whom we cannot even scratch the surface by admissions to this country. It is impossible to imagine an influx into these islands of Arabs, Chinese, or Koreans on a scale which would significantly serve a useful purpose. The only practical possibility in their case is their resettlement in areas somewhere near the places from which they have been driven—that is what they would want themselves—and at least in a more gentle climate than our country can offer them. Their problems will not be solved by admission to this country or any other Western country, but by massive international action on the spot.

I want to say a word about the wider aspect of the whole problem. None of us has any illusions about the miserable and degrading lot of refugees all over the world. Miserable as they are in Germany, Africa, Greece, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Middle East, they are not the only poor people in the world and some of them, harsh though this may sound to us, are not even among the poorer people of the world. The problem of world poverty is much larger even than the problem of refugees. It will still be with us when the refugee problem is solved. It is to this wider problem, which, again, can only be solved by international action, to which the Government's eyes should be turned next, when the World Refugee Year is over.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) upon the excellent way in which he introduced this debate, upon the thought and consideration which he has given to the subject and also upon his very good fortune. Not only is the House indebted to him for the debate but hundreds of thousands of workers in the country who have been working very hard on behalf of the World Refugee Year will be pleased that at least in this Chamber, and not only in another place, we have had the opportunity to discuss this subject.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton for giving us this opportunity, because we are in the eleventh month of the World Refugee Year and but for his good fortune it might well have been that this House would not have discussed it. Yet it was a British initiative. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) was one of three angry young men. There have been no politics in World Refugee Year; it has been a great humanitarian appeal. I think that the House should commend him, together with his other two friends, on writing the article which caught the inspiration of the newspapers of this country and which attracted the attention of the Government. Then, in the United Nations, it was a British delegate who moved the resolution which was carried by probably the greatest majority given to any resolution.

My credentials for speaking tonight are that for two years I have served on the Council of Europe as the rapporteur for refugees. It has been an inspiring experience. There has been much tragedy and sometimes very much heartache, and it led me to participate in the work of the United Kingdom World Refugee Committee. I have had one of the most enjoyable eleven months that I have known in working with all sorts of people of all shades of opinion, with hon. Members on both sides of the House, with trade unionists and with many associations, including the representatives of fourteen voluntary agencies. The number of people who have come together with the one aim of making the World Refugee Year a success has been quite remarkable.

This refugee problem is the largest single human issue facing the world today. In the other place, during the course of a debate on World Refugee Year, the Lord Bishop of Sheffield used approximately these words: Our postwar world is haunted by the homeless man. He is not a ghost; he is flesh and blood, emaciated, starving. It has been estimated that there are well-nigh 14 million of such people around the world. He is no ghost. He is in our midst.

It is an ignorant world that does not know how a refugee lives and exists. Unfortunately it is an ignorant world, since those 14 million refugees exist because Governments have so far willed it so. That problem could have been settled long ago. I am not selecting any one Government when I say that it is to the shame of all Governments that, had they willed the solution of this problem, it could have been solved.

All the refugee asks is to cease being a refugee. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that during the Easter Recess I spent two days as a refugee. In order to arouse the conscience of the people in my constituency, I decided that I would live in a refugee hut for a couple of days. I lived on 1s. a day and it was pretty rough, but 1s. a day is approximately how much a refugee has to live on.

If we go around the world we can see some of the tragedy. In Europe there are 122,000 refugees even today; 22,000 are in camps and 100,000 are outside camps. It is estimated that in Europe there are 25,000 children born in the camps. There are three generations there—the grandparents, the parents and the children. For between fourteen and fifteen years there they have been in Europe, 122,000 of them.

Most of those living in the camps are the rejects—the handicapped, the T.B.s, the deaf—those whom nobody wants, those whom no country wants to take in. It may be that there is a wife or a child who is disabled, so no country will accept them and they remain. They are the hard core cases, 22,000 of them, in the camps. One of the things we want to do during World Refugee Year is to close the camps. I believe that this is possible. With the money that has already come in throughout the world, I believe that this objective is possible during World Refugee Year.

There are, however, 100,000 outside the camps and their condition is even worse. They are living in attics, in garrets, sometimes in holes in the ground. Some of them are living in unofficial camps, and during World Refugee Year a real start must be made to reduce that number. Away out in China there are 8,000 refugees of European origin. They have been refugees for thirty or forty years, since the First World War. They are aged. They have come to the twiligiht of their life and there is little time left for them. All that is needed are visas and money. Some of us believe that in World Refugee Year we can find an answer to their problems.

I turn now to the 1 million Palestine refugees. That is the figure for registered refugees; there may be even more unregistered. Children number 450,000, and 30,000 of them reach maturity each month—then other children come along. In that way the population of refugees increases. There are 58 camps spread about over 100,000 square miles. These people are living in the most barren areas, many of them in mud huts and tents. It is perhaps ironical that 8,000 of them are living in the limestone caves of Bethlehem.

The immediate task there is first of all to keep these people alive. They are living on 1,300 calories a day. Members of this House, with a sedentary occupation, require 2,600 calories a day and a manual worker 3,600. Yet in Palestine these refugees are living on 1,300 calories a day. Not only have we to keep them alive, but because of the political problem we must teach them, if we can, to fend for themselves, train them in the various arts and skills in order that they can make a living and set up new communities. Probably one of the only ways of finding a solution to this problem is to show these people skills and trades so that these new communities can arise. That is a great task.

I come now to Hong Kong, where there are more than 1 million refugees. Two out of seven of the population are refugees. The Governor and the Government have done their best, but the refugees have swarmed into Hong Kong during these last few years. The children among them number 250,000. Thousands of them have been abandoned by their parents, who were too weak from hunger or illness to go on caring for them. One will find many a child begging on the streets of Hong Kong. The living conditions of these children have already been explained to the House—they live on the rooftops, on the hillsides and even on the sidewalks, where they lie down at night. The conditions in Hong Kong are indescribable.

The story is not complete yet. In Morocco and Tunisia there are about 250,000 refugees from Algeria. I am told that 50 per cent. of them are children, 35 per cent. are women and the remaining 15 per cent. are mostly old men. Their plight is most desperate. Only the other day I saw a letter written in October by two Quakers visiting Tunisia This is what it said: We made a long drive up into the mountains to the frontier. When we got there we could hear cannon booming in Algeria, across the border. Practically all the children we saw showed signs of extreme malnutrition—sores, hair falling out, thin, thin, thin. At Le Kef the children were being carried about too weak to walk—with tiny arms all bone, and hardly able to hold up their heads—at 5 or 6 years of age. Sores, scaling skin, swollen bellies, hair falling out, all these you could see. It is impossible to imagine people being alive and having worse conditions. Later, we went inside the mud and branches hut of a family of six. It was a circular place ten feet in diameter with a dirt floor … So I could go on. Conditions in Algeria are indescribable. Those are some of the refugee problems throughout the world.

I urge upon the Government that something more should be done than has been done. The truly magnificent work of local committees for World Refugee Year has been one of the gems of this story of the refugees. World Refugee Year cannot be repeated. It comes only once. Every refugee thinks that it is his year. There are 14 million refugees who feel that this will be their year, but many will be disappointed, despite the great effort made in this country and throughout the world—and I understand that the estimated target for the world was to deal with about 16 million.

We shall not solve the refugee problem in one year. The people of this country have shown the will and the generosity to get rid of the problem, but because we cannot have another World Refugee Year, constant pressure must be put on all Governments to decide that this problem has to be solved. Because this is a once and for ever effort, I want the Government's contribution to be increased to at least £500,000.

I intervened to say that in Norway the population had given 3s. 9d. per head, while our contribution was about 1s. 4d. per head. However, I understand that the Norwegian Government are to give crown for crown. It was British initiative which set the example and gave the idea of World Refugee Year. Do not let us spoil it. Do not let us spoil it by allowing the initiative in Government contribution to pass to Norway. I believe that in due course the Government will be a little more generous than they have been. There is a strong case for a contribution of £500,000, although I would like to see a contribution of £1 million.

At the Council of Europe I tried my best to get through some recommendations to help in a solution of this problem. One was for dealing with the 8,000 refugee seamen. They have no home anywhere. They are on ships and are not allowed to land anywhere without travelling papers. Pilots welcome the harbour lights, but the lights are not for these refugees. They have to stay aboard. Only two or three years ago the eight maritime nations of Europe agreed that these refugees should be given travelling papers, but implementation of that agreement has been delayed because only six nations have signed it. The United Kingdom has signed. What progress has been made about getting the signatures of the other two nations?

Another recommendation which I put to the Council of Europe was that the Council's budget surplus—and there is usually a surplus—should be made available in World Refugee Year for a settlement to be established in Austria, so that we should not only do a job of work in rehabilitating refugees, but build something in Europe which would always be Europe—and I can think of nothing better than resettling refugees.

May I say a few words about the victims of Nazism, the 25,000 stateless, homeless urchins who are still awaiting their compensation? A thousand of them suffered medical experiments under Hitler. In 1954, in the Paris Agreement, the German Federal Republic agreed that a fund should be set up in order that they might have compensation. It has not yet been set up, and I should like to know what is the present position and what influence the Government can bring to bear in order that the compensation which was due to these people shall be given to them.

I will tell the Minister why I raise the matter here. In going about the refugee camps in Europe I talked to refugees, and I found in the course of my journeys that very many of them did not want to be resettled until they had received their compensation. They feared that if they went to another country that compensation would never be given to them.

I apologise to the House for speaking for so long. I should like to conclude with a reference to Algeria. The Government have given only £12,800. I put a Question to the Minister the other day. I understand that there has been another appeal from the High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Kingdom World Refugee Committee has given £50,000, but the Government have given only £12,800, in the form of edible oil. That was the value of it. I think that the Government should make a greater contribution than £12,800.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the refugee problem. I am very proud indeed of my countrymen, for I believe Chat we have shown an example to the world. Certainly, the initiative came from Britain, and we can at least claim the credit that the idea went round the world. I am proud of the response from our people. The target in this country was £2 million, but it has been raised to £4 million. Already £3 million has come in. Already £2 million has been spent. We have not been sitting on the money; we have already spent it in resettlement schemes. I am proud of the people of this country and I want to be proud of my Government. I think that I can be proud if, at the end of the World Refugee Year, the Government's contribution is at least £500,000.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)

The hon. Member for Gates-head, West (Mr. Randall) knows as much about refugees, I think, as anybody in the House. I know how much work he has done in this cause on the United Kingdom Committee for World Refugee Year during the last eleven months.

The hon. Member has graphically described the conditions of the refugees and something of what has been done. I agree with him when he urges that representations should be made with a view to obtaining compensation for those thousand victims of Nazi oppression, but I think that it would be wrong if the tone of the debate were to be entirely critical of the efforts which Germany has made, because among the majority of workers for refugees will be found much admiration for the efforts of West Germany on behalf of refugees. Not only do they have to settle the East Germans who come across the border but they also contribute up to 60 per cent. towards the resettlement of refugees within Germany; and, over and above that, they have had a voluntary appeal in West Germany which has been extremely successful and they have stipulated that one-half of this money shall be spent on refugees outside the country. Their record is certainly not bad. It makes it all the sadder that the legitimate claims, as I believe them to be, of these relatively few people have not so far been met.

I want very briefly to urge upon the Government that they should heed the plea in the Amendment for an increased contribution. It should be realised that the response of this country has been remarkable. At the beginning of this year I thought that we should find it extremely hard to raise £2 million. Two and a half million pounds were raised after the Hungarian revolution when there was a sense of guilt, when the subject of refugees was a matter for headlines day after day, and when public interest was enormous. I felt that it would be hard, in cold blood, to raise £2 million. I felt that charity which was nearer at home would inevitably have more appeal for the ordinary subscriber. I felt that many people would feel that this was so vast a problem that it was hardly worth tackling.

This has not been the case. The British public has been able to visualise only too well the individual misery of which this vast problem is compounded. Every hon. Member has experience of extraordinary efforts being made. From Eton to the least affluent primary school, contributions have been made. About 1,000 committees have been formed up and down the country. All of these have come together voluntarily during the last eleven months. Corporate efforts, some of them of a very substantial size, have been made by cities, towns and boroughs. The W.V.S. is well on the way to collecting what will amount to £1 million worth of clothing, mostly to be sent to the Middle East.

Praiseworthy efforts have been made not only by organisations, but by individuals. The World Refugee office can testify to that. Large quantities of postal orders arrive from old-age pensioners and from other people who can ill afford to give. Over the weekend I came across a youth club in Sussex which has 20 members. It is on the way to raising £1,000. By means of extraordinarily hard work and appeals, and by putting on fetes, it will probably succeed.

All this is appreciated, but it is important that the Government should realise the size of the reaction in this country. Two hundred thousand pounds is a very small contribution indeed. It has been argued that this is right and that this is an occasion when the voluntary contributor should come into his own. It has been said that the British Government have led the way by initiating the motion at the United Nations and that Britain will have played her part through her voluntary contribution.

I do not believe that this is a tenable argument, because the appeal was not made to individuals on the understanding that the more they gave the less the Government would need to give. Among all those who have worked hard for World Refugee Year there is a feeling that the Government are bound to contribute more. Three hundred thousand additional pounds is a small sum. It will make hardly a dent on the vastness of the refugee problem, but it will give tremendous heart to those who have worked so hard during World Refugee Year and who have to go on working. If they feel that their efforts have not been recognised or in any way officially matched, their enthusiasm will be very seriously sapped.

Having said that, it is right that I should pay tribute to the Home Office. Those who have had dealings with that Department during this World Refugee Year have nothing but praise for it. They say that they have never found the Home Office so accommodating. They hope that the generous spirit in which the regulations have been interpreted during the past eleven months may continue, but I believe that at the moment it is money that is primarily needed.

It appears that more or less all of those refugees from Europe, whether disabled or not, who want to come into this country, will probably be able to do so, because the Government are putting very few barriers in their way. The only limitation, of course, is the fairly strict demands for sponsorship; anybody who is bringing refugees into the country must satisfy the authorities that they can maintain that refugee, if the worst comes to the worst, for seven years. That takes a great deal of doing, and one must point out that the practice in France, in Belgium, in Denmark and the majority of European countries is that once these people have been accepted into the country they become eligible for National Assistance, at least.

It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) argued, our way is very often the voluntary way, but I urge the Government to reconsider the size of their contribution. The motion that Britain introduced in the United Nations spoke not only of a voluntary effort towards solving parts of the world's refugee problem, but also of an effort by Governments. Our financial contribution does not match up to that of a number of other countries, and I feel that if the British Government can see their way to giving even this small extra contribution of £300,000 it will greatly enhance our prestige and give tremendous heart to those who continue to work for refugees.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)

I have several reasons for appreciating the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) in bringing this important subject before the House and the nation. We have just listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). In following him for a moment or two, I would only say, with respect, that we all fully understand that man's rise from barbarism to civilisation is supposed to be the theme of history. The desire for happiness has always been the simple and powerful motive that has drawn man from the savage and barbarious state in which nature placed him. By the sole aid of his faculties man has been able to raise himself to his present astonishing heights.

When we give serious study to the unceasing struggle between right and wrong, our conscience stirs at the thought of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Far East, in Asia, in Europe and the Middle East, who confront us with a gigantic human problem. While our chief interests in this House lie in the performance of strictly Parliamentary work, carrying with it a great weight of responsibility in human activity, this is one debate in which we want to express our deep concern over the tragedy of the refugees.

As has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) and for Normanton, and by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, there can now be no doubt that, as a result of the intense publicity campaign, supported by the tremendous amount of work put in by local committees, the public, with an increased appreciation of the problem of the refugees, has responded magnificently to the appeal of the Social Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.

It can well be understood that hon. Members are sometimes overwhelmingly conscious of the housing problems of their own constituents, and that much of their sympathy is with those who are on the perpetual housing waiting list, and with those who are subject to the maximum ceiling of rent, which they cannot afford. Nevertheless, when we think of the incredible number of refugees throughout the world—estimated at 14 million—living in grim conditions, we should be guided by the strength and kindness of human nature and not allow ourselves to forget the hopeless plight of those people in all the demoralising conditions that surround them.

Although there are many widely differing points of view, there is much evidence to impress on the Government the need for a much greater contribution than they have already offered. Public opinion and support is now focussed on the national effort to support the World Refugee Year. The member churches of the World Council of Churches have given proof of their very strong support of the United Nations Refugee Fund, and are fulfilling with honour and humanity their responsibility in the never ending work for the refugees.

It is, therefore, with a great deal of satisfaction that I acknowledge the spiritual and moral encouragement and the financial support which they are giving in assisting the refugees in their plight. It may be true that humanitarian impulses are strong after a war, or after an upheaval in a far-off country, but refugees are the backwash of political and military events and as long as these events exist they excite public opinion and sympathy for the refugees who are thrown up. There is a formidable array of evidence exhibiting the consequences of the most degrading social conditions in these miserable refugee camps.

Many hon. Members have spoken of their experiences of refugees. My own experience was anything but pleasant when I visited refugee camps in Middle Eastern countries, including, of all places, the land of the Bible. My experience enabled me to form some idea of the circumstances of poverty and the countless human problems affecting these refugees. The appearance of the grief that is manifested among these people living among the squalor of their mud huts and tents gives one a vivid idea of the bad fortune that has befallen them, and, while lamentation can be expressed for the anguish that they suffer and the conditions to which they are exposed, I must say that sympathy is not enough when we consider the calamitous events that have brought them to this low level.

To the outside world, they are plainly and simply referred to as refugees, but when one sees many of them who are aged, blind, bedridden, crippled and absolutely destitute, living a life of exile in all kinds of makeshift buildings, it is then that one acquires the impulse of compassion for their frustration.

I do not know what the situation is like at present. I do not suppose that it has improved very much. The clothing situation was far worse than the food situation, as after ten years of exile many of them had very little left of their original clothing. This in itself is a major relief problem, and while I readily acknowledge that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has done and is still doing a remarkable job, it is beyond the capacity of any organisation to cloth over 1 million refugees.

The plight of these people is essentially a great human tragedy. Yet in spite of their numerous and difficult handicaps, they show a remarkable spirit of enthusiasm and interest for the education of their young children, and it is unfortunate that they should be reared in such surroundings. It is encouraging to see that these people have the perseverance to see that education is carried out in tents and open-air schools, but one must admit that all the education in the world in these circumstances cannot eradicate from their minds the most indescribable poverty and deep despair which surrounds them.

Suffering the pain of poverty is always a great evil in any state of living, and while it may be said that poverty is never felt so severely as by those who have seen better days, it must be clear to all who believe in the ideal of Christianity that any deviation from responsibility to the pressing needs of refugees would carry with it the stigma of Social and ethical treason. Fortunately, we have the strong support of the public, and it is to their honour and dignity that they are rendering such fine first-aid to so many afflicted people.

I would remind the House that one of the world's greatest thinkers, Charles Darwin, in exercising his unbounded patience in building up his theory on the struggle for life, said: As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would be to tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to men of all nations and races. With this philosophy and outlook in mind, any introspection on the serious refugee problem today must make us realise the importance of Darwin's emphasis on the need for right intentions and outlook when faced with such lamentable situations as have arisen. In the greater cause of humanity itself, there is more need of co-operation today than at any time in history.

While we look forward to the future, either in hope or in fear, whatever may be our own ideas of freedom and equality, it hardly needs saying that if the Government would generously increase their contribution it would help to break down some of the barriers of disillusionment and uncertainty and serve to bring a fairer deal to refugees, at the same time giving satisfaction to us all in the knowledge that it would be in harmony with the ideals in which we believe.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Creech Jones (Wakefield)

There has been a notable unanimity of view in the House on the subject we are considering this evening, and I hope, therefore, that the sympathy with the refugees which has been expressed and the strength of our own feelings on the need for comprehensive action will bring from the Government a reply conceding some of the demands which have been made in the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) on raising a subject on which there is such deep feeling. He must be gratified that the House has responded so splendidly to the views he advanced in his opening speech. It is not for me now to add very much to what has been said. I wish merely to direct attention to one or two outstanding points. We have had an extraordinarily informative and eloquent debate, and I congratulate those hon. Members who have taken part on the high quality of their speeches and the eloquence with which they expressed their views.

This problem is always with us. I recall from my younger days the exodus of refugees from Belgium at the opening of the First World War. I recall the demand made on some of us to help the Jews who were trying to escape from the wrath of Hitler before the last war. I remember the work done on behalf of the Russians who escaped from the Revolution. I know something of the tragedy when the mandate in Palestine came to an end and a great new problem was created in respect of refugee Arabs—a problem which remains unsolved to this day. One can go through a long succession of events, political revolutionary changes and wars, which have brought this problem forcibly before us and which have compelled international action. It is well that there has been international recognition that the refugee problem is incapable of solution merely on national lines and is one which is within the scope of international action.

Tribute must be paid to all the voluntary bodies and non-governmental organisations as well as Governments which have played an effective part in trying to bring relief and a solution to the problems of the refugees. That work in the international sphere goes back to when Nansen was appointed High Commissioner under the old League of Nations. Now, under the United Nations, we have an effective organisation which is trying to co-ordinate the work being done in various parts of the world, to mobilise funds and to render practical assistance in solving some of the legal and status difficulties. In a way, the United Nations is responsible for 1½ million refugees, people whose roots have been torn up and who have no place in the world. In addition, there are the other great populations—I million Arabs in what used to be Palestine and neighbouring countries and 1 million people from China in Hong Kong. There are people on our own doorstep from Russia and from Nazi Germany. There is the problem of Algeria, with refugees in Tunis and Morocco. As soon as we relieve the position of refugees arising from one catastrophe, we are confronted with another which presents a completely new problem for solution. So the fact that we have become conscious that this is a problem which calls for international as well as national action shows that we are making some progress. We can pay tribute to the excellent work being done by the United Nations and its agencies as well as by the numerous non-governmental agencies which have been created to deal with specific problems.

This country may take credit for the initiative it has shown. I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) for the work which he did in bringing home to the people of this country and of the world the realities of this dreadful problem. We must also acknowledge the excellent work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) in trying to guide discussions in the European Council and to arouse public conscience in the hope that things of a practical character could be done.

We must acknowledge how tremendous has been the response in this country, how unanimous has been the feeling everywhere and how voluntary workers, societies and organisations of all kinds have worked hard to reach the target set in this country for this special year of money raising. The work of some of the societies, the small voluntary organisations and the local authorities, has been of immense importance in making people realise the depth and tragedy of a problem which continues to overtake the world. Now that the response has been so generous, we can make a special plea to the Government to give general encouragement all round to those who have made this great effort and ask them to increase the contribution they have already made.

I do not deny the contribution which the country has made to the problem in the past and continues to make year by year. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), referred to the fact Chat the great under-developed areas of the world still claim our practical and financial attention. We all admit that the widening gap between the industrial nations and the less privileged countries presents a problem of tremendous magnitude which must be given much more constructive effort by the nations which have the resources, if disaster does not overtake the world, in terms of insecurity and war in the days to come. The refugee question is a special problem, however, calling for immediate amelioration and in which all should play their part. It should not be confused with the larger problem of building up the standards of living and developing the resources of the under-developed countries. It is a separate issue.

Moreover, in making our plea to the Government to increase their contribution, we should not say that they need take no further action because we are already helping in so many ways the people who are less privileged than ourselves. It is true that since 1945 up to last year, we had committed ourselves to the extent of over £200 million in respect of Colonial Development and Welfare, of which at least £187 million has been by way of grant. To that can be added a great contribution by the Colonial Development Corporation and in addition, a whole variety of other agencies. We have been paying something like £8 million each year to the various agencies and bodies operating under the United Nations. We have also been paying £2 million a year for the refugees in Palestine.

Nor do I forget the contribution which has been made by the Hong Kong Government concerning the problem in their midst. They have been carrying a heavy burden and at least one-third of their annual budget is now devoted to finding an answer to the refugee problem there.

In a variety of ways, we have shown great generosity towards needy causes in various parts of the world. But while we may have some gratification as to our own generosity, however, let us face this rather special problem of refugees and see whether we can do a little more to help forward the rehabilitation and restoration to normal living of these people who are so wretched and so destitute as a result of the ill fate which has overtaken them.

The Amendment calls special attention, of course, to the new aspects of the problem—although they are not so new—of the large number of refugees across the borders from Algeria into Tunisia and Morocco. It is singular that in this instance no fewer than 80 per cent. of the refugees are women, young children, aged people—not able-bodied people, but people who are peculiarly unable to fend for themselves and who need to be succoured by those who have the facilities for so doing.

One might go through a long list of areas where refugees exist, but I think the British conscience has been stirred by the noble effort of the past year. The British conscience is anxious that a solution should also be found by trying to open the gates of some of the countries where these refugees are not yet permitted to go, by trying to make movement about the world a little easier for them, by trying to find some answer to the problem of their status. The British people hope that a great deal of new, practical work can be done in order that the refugees may be rehabilitated and have the possibility of a better quality of life.

In the Palestine case, too, no fewer than 50 per cent. of the refugees are children under 16 years of age. Schools are necessary, health arrangements are required and houses for those people to live in. This is practical work of relief which calls for urgent and immediate attention. It is not only a problem of just keeping people alive. It is a question, too, of rehabilitating them for civilised living, and also of trying to get them intergrated into the life of some other country.

Therefore, we are obliged to urge the Government that they look seriously at the plea which has been made in this debate tonight. The Amendment asks that £500,000 be set aside. It is, for the Government, not a very large additional sum, since they have already promised £200,000. The country has shown its intense interest by raising more than £3 million. Surely, in the light of this demonstration of the sincerity of the country, of this feeling of sympathy and understanding the Government, in addition to what they are doing in Palestine and Hong Kong and other places, should make this further provision.

We hope that the Government will not only remove any restraints or difficulties which exist in the way of the movement or of the status of refugees, but will respond generously to the plea we are making tonight. As has been said, this country took the initiative at the United Nations and the people and private organisations have done much. It therefore behoves the Government who have gone so far, now to give a ready response, and encouragement to those who will continue this work in the days to come.

Even the money that is raised in this World Refugee Year will be quickly exhausted and the demand will continue and private efforts still be necessary. Therefore, however small the Government's contribution we ought to see that there is a continuing effort so that this problem may be finally solved. Certainly on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends—and I am sure that the feeling is shared in all parts of the House—it is our hope that the Government will respond generously and nobly to the request made in this debate.

9.36 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Robert Allan)

On behalf of the Government I should like to thank the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) for raising this matter and, in a more personal way, thank him for the manner in which he opened the discussion. We have had many knowledgeable and moving speeches, but none more so than that of the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall), who has given so much of his time and his heart to this problem. I am sure also that we all welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). As World Refugee Year nears its triumphant end, he must feel a sense of personal achievement which few of us can hope to enjoy.

As the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) pointed out, hon. Members who have spoken have shown that sincerity which comes from a knowledge and understanding of what is one of the most tragic human problems. Their speeches have reflected our determination to make World Refugee Year an outstanding success, a determination of which we have all had first-hand experience in our constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) very rightly pointed out that this was not only a humanitarian matter but one with major political implications as well, and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) drew attention to some of these in his moving speech.

This spontaneous effort by ordinary British people has had a quite extraordinary international impact. I saw Dr. Lindt, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in Geneva two or three times last week, and I can tell the House that he makes no effort to hide his pleasure and surprise at the success of World Refugee Year. His gratitude is very moving, especially to someone from this country, for he frequently points out that the generosity of those individuals, local committees and voluntary agencies who now work for World Refugee Year in 76 countries has as its source of inspiration the initiative of the British people. Therefore, all those who have worked here in so many ways, by thus inspiring their counterparts in other countries, have multiplied many times their own contribution to World Refugee Year.

I am particularly glad that so many and such sincere tributes have been paid by the hon. Member for Normanton, the hon. Member for Gateshead, West and others to the work of these people. I am sure, however, that they themselves would be the first to admit that their generosity and enthusiasm would not have found expression had it not been for the leadership of the noble Lady the Lady Elliot, the President of the United Kingdom Committee.

One of the most refreshing aspects of World Refugee Year has been that for the first time in a good many years the enthusiasm of the British public has been fired by a common cause. We are all in this, and it is not a question of leaving it to the other fellow. For once it is not "they" who should be doing something about it; it is we who are actually doing it, and doing it in a very impressive way too. This was surely the object of those who sponsored World Refugee Year. It was to recreate a sense of personal responsibility for, in this instance, the plight of refugees, but who knows how much further, and with what benefit, this may spread?

This point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse). I emphasise it not as an excuse for what has been criticised today as inadequate Government support to the Year's programme; I say it in all sincerity, and I suggest to the House that whereas a voluntary gift, like mercy, is twice blessed, a forced gift in the form of a Government contribution is by no means certain of a double benediction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Forced?"] It is a forced gift if it comes from a Government; it is a voluntary gift if it comes out of the individual pockets of the people.

Frankly, I do not believe that the support already given by the Government has been inadequate, nor can I accept the suggestion that the Government have failed to give the necessary lead in this matter. In the first instance, as hon. Members have pointed out, Her Majesty's Government sponsored the proposal for World Refugee Year in the United Nations General Assembly. We pledged £100,000 in its support from the beginning, when none but those with faith saw what the end might be. The Government were, so to speak, the instrument by which the idea in the minds of these three young British men was translated into a world-wide movement manifesting the humanity of ordinary man.

As the House knows, World Refugee Year was launched in June last in this country. Just as the Government had given a lead at the United Nations, so they sought to give a lead in this country by pledging a further £100,000 to the United Kingdom Committee.

Every hon. Member who has spoken this evening has urged the Government to make a further contribution. I know that in asking this hon. Members were expressing the views of many of their constituents. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and other speakers from this Box have said many times that they are aware of these strong feelings throughout the country. I think it has not escaped the notice of hon. Members that none of these spokesmen has so far given a negative reply to any questions on this subject. I regret that once again this evening I can make no commitment, although I can assure hon. Members that the Government are by no means unresponsive, either to the appeals that have been made or to the needs of the refugees themselves. I must ask them to wait until the end of the year for the Government's final response.

Many hon. Members have told us dramatically of the plight of refugees in many parts of the world—in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe, Algeria and elsewhere. As the right hon. Gentleman said, of course we have been only too well aware of this, for some years now, alas. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned to the House the various and sizeable contributions which the Government had made to the colonial development and welfare funds and other funds, but he might also have said that the Government have in the years since the war contributed no less than £200 million for relief to refugees and displaced persons. This sum has been used in all the areas mentioned except Algeria. That, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gateshead, West knows, is a separate problem, but when considering a further contribution to World Refugee Year we shall have the High Commissioner's appeal for the Algerian refugees particularly in mind.

The hon. Gentleman also raised one or two specific questions. One was regarding refugee seamen. I can confirm that the Belgian Government have now ratified that agreement, so there remains only one Government, the Federal Republic, to sign it. I think we can hope that this will be forthcoming in the fairly near future. He also asked me a detailed question about the recommendation for the use of the surplus funds of the Council of Europe. The recommendation was, I think, that these funds should be made available to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This has not yet been agreed, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government favour that course.

As regards his last specific point on the question of the compensation by the Federal German Government to Nazi victims, I recently answered questions from him in the House on that subject, and I am afraid that I cannot go beyond saying that my right hon. and learned Friend is pressing the German Government on this matter.

I should now like to turn to the question of the admission of refugee immigrants into this country. The hon. Member for Normanton reminded us of our country's proud record in this respect. But it is not only the past of which we should be proud. I should like to remind the House that, ignoring all that was done before the War, since the end of it we have admitted to this country about 250,000 refugees. It is to their credit as well at to our own that they have been fully assimilated into the life of our people. Few realise that one in every 200 of our population has been a post-war refugee. We have thus maintained in recent years a humanitarian tradition which has been cherished for generations in this country.

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke at the inaugural ceremony of World Refugee Year at the Mansion House, he said that as this was a small country we could not accept very large numbers. This was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus today. The Prime Minister added, however, that there were special categories of handicapped refugees whom we should certainly try to help. We have not failed in this.

Soon after the beginning of World Refugee Year we readily responded to the United Kingdom Committee's proposal that 210 handicapped refugees and their families should be admitted to this country. By the end of 1959, arrangements had been made for the admission to this country of them all. Except for eight refugees still to come from the Far East, all of them have now arrived here. The Committee has since made a further proposal that more handicapped refugees should be allowed to come to Britain for resettlement. The Government have equally welcomed this approach and the emphasis given to the admission of handicapped refugees of long-standing. The basis for admission has now been widened so that it covers some particularly tragic cases whose resettlement has in the past presented insuperable difficulties. One of the categories now admitted are those suffering from tuberculosis. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus will be glad to know that T.B. is now no bar. Indeed, amongst the 200 refugees from Europe already admitted, I believe some 22 have been suffering from this disease.

Details of these new proposals were given to the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of the Home Office on 10th March. I am particularly glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North paid tribute to the work of the Home Office. I know from my side how extremely valuable and painstaking it has been.

We have also now suggested that a preliminary survey should be carried out in order to establish the numbers of such specially handicapped refugees who wish to come to this country and who could be adequately sponsored by various organisations. I am glad to say that these proposals were welcomed by the refugee organisations and a Home Office team will be leaving this country next month to interview those refugees who wish to settle in the United Kingdom.

As I have said, the emphasis is put on the specially handicapped refugees. Our offer is, therefore, doubly valuable to them, for we shall be providing, free of charge, the facilities of the National Health Service to those who need medical treatment. I can assure the hon. Member for Gateshead, West that those who were victims of Nazi concentration and slave labour camps have not been overlooked in this scheme. Indeed, I am told that we expect that about eight out of every ten of the refugees who come here will be from Germany. I think I can also say in this connection something which Dr. Lindt told me last week. That was that he believed it was now within his power to close all the refugee camps in Europe.

None of us has any hesitation in praising the work done by the many organisations concerned with World Refugee Year or in acknowledging the great generosity of the British public. I hope that what I have said will have dispelled any doubts there may have been about the sincerity of Her Majesty's Government's support for this great enterprise. I trust—though I rather doubt it—that I have also justified to the House the Government's decision to wait until the end of the year before making known their response to appeals for a third and final contribution to it.

I should like to end the debate by quoting a statement made by Dr. Lindt at a meeting of his Executive Committee in Geneva last week. He said: We have had many very generous initiatives in the field of refugee migration during World Refugee Year, but it is indeed fitting that from the United Kingdom, cradle of World Refugee Year, there should come such a gesture that is nothing less than unprecedented. It is both a tribute to the generosity of the people and an indication of the sympathy of Her Majesty's Government for the cause of refugees. Those heartening words will, I am sure, be a spur to us all in the final weeks of this unique endeavour to prove man's humanity to man.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee Tomorrow.