HL Deb 06 February 1935 vol 95 cc820-44

LORD MARLEY had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether refugees from the Saar are considered to come under the general responsibility of the High Commissioner for Refugees (Jewish and non-Jewish) coming from Germany; and what action is being taken by His Majesty's Government to aid the High Commissioner in his general task of settlement of refugees; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Motion in the interests of a very unhappy and unfortunate group of persons who are refugees from their own country, and I cannot help thinking that it will appeal to your Lordships' instincts of justice and humanity, which must animate us when these unfortunate people are under consideration. The question deals with refugees from Germany and in particular the refugees from the Saar. The League of Nations, when refugees started to leave Germany, had to take cognisance of the seriousness of the position, because the number of refugees leaving that country and taking refuge in other European countries became very large. They reached a total, eventually, of something like 70,000–70,000 people uprooted from their homes and forced to take refuge in other countries. In consequence, about eighteen months ago the League of Nations decided to appoint a High Commissioner, advised by various advisory bodies to deal with that matter. In the Resolution of the League it was stated that the Assembly Having regard to the situation created by the fact that a large number of persons, Jewish and other, coming from Germany have taken refuge in several countries; Considering that their presence in those countries constitutes an economic, financial and social problem which can be solved only by international collaboration; Is convinced that all governments will assist the High Commissioner to the best of their abilities in the tasks defined above.

The High Commissioner selected was a very well known American, Mr. James McDonald, who, up to the time of his appointment, was Chairman of the Foreign Policy Association of New York, and Mr. McDonald started his task under circumstances of considerable difficulty. Refugees were still, and are still, leaving Germany, and while, during the eighteen months that he has been High Commissioner, he has succeeded in helping in the organisation of a good many of the refugees, yet the task facing him substantially remains a very serious one. Of the 70,000 refugees it is calculated that about 35,000 only have actually been settled, and of those the greatest number, 20,000 or thereabouts, have been settled in Palestine. Of the remainder there are a few thousand settled in the United States and a few in South Africa, and some have been absorbed in European countries. That leaves still 35,000 unsettled refugees in various countries, and the vast bulk of those refugees are at the present moment in France. Something like 15,000 have been received by the French Government, and have no chance of being settled. There are perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 in Czechoslovakia, a few in Austria and Holland, a considerable number in Poland, and perhaps 2,000 or 2,500 in Great Britain.

In no sense of the word is the method of dealing with this question to be considered anti-German or against the German Government. We realise that the German Government have a right to their own internal policy, and that if their policy does in fact involve the leaving of that country by large numbers of refugees, this becomes an international question because these refugees have to be received somewhere. The problem has been recognised to be international by the League of Nations, and the only question that arises is how best the recognised international aspects of that problem can be dealt with by the nations. The High Commissioner began his task with a small loan of about £1,200 or £1,400 from the League of Nations—25,000 Swiss francs. It was only a loan, which had to be, and was in fact, repaid. Since then no Government has contributed a penny to the support of either the refugees or the administrative office of the High Commissioner. The whole of its task has been rendered infinitely more difficult by the fact that he has been forced to try to raise the money from private sources, and has not had a penny from any Government. The private sources involved have subscribed somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,500,000 for looking after these refugees, and it is interesting to notice that whereas 80 per cent. of the refugees are Jewish, 95 per cent. of the money subscribed has come from Jewish sources; in other words, it is the Jewish organisations which are now mainly helping to look after the Christian or non-Jewish refugees.

Of course, there have been methods of helping other than through the High Commissioner. I was Chairman of a Relief Committee for Victims of Fascism, which established, among other things, homes for children near Paris, and looked after a certain number of children; but clearly the best work must be co-ordinated through the High Commissioner, and the High Commissioner has had very great difficulty in meeting his administrative work and the work of helping the refugees. I understand that the High Commissioner did suggest some months ago that the Governments might join together in making a small grant merely to pay for the cost of administration of his office—for travelling expenses, the keeping up of a small office which is at present established in London at Sentinel House, Southampton Row, and other matters. It would have involved a payment by this country of perhaps £2,000. I believe that the United States had expressed their full willingness to contribute their share, and other countries had agreed more or less unofficially, provided that the greater countries, including Great Britain, would do their share. I hope that the second part of my question, then, may receive the sympathetic consideration of the representative of the Government, and that we may take our share in subscribing to a small fund to aid in paying the expenses of administration, so that every penny subscribed by the organisations for the refugees may go to the refugees, and none of it may be absorbed in administrative expenses of the office of High Commissioner. That is important because there has been a good deal of perhaps uninformed criticism of the office of the High Commissioner. I do not believe the High Commissioner has been extravagant. I confess I do not know all the methods of his expenditure, but it would clearly be a tremendous help to the voluntary organisation if they knew that every penny they subscribed would go direct to aiding refugees and that none would be used for administrative expenses.

The real problem is the problem of settlement. It is no good paying to keep these indigent families in countries where they are not settled and where they merely become a dangerous economic element in time of difficulty. When you get such cases as I have seen of doctors and lawyers earning their living by selling newspapers in the street, of families who at one time were well-off living in corners of disused barrack rooms in circumstances of peculiar suffering to families not accustomed to it, you see that settlement is the real problem; and I think we owe a great deal of gratitude to Palestine for having received so many of these families and for the work which has been done by Jewish organisations such as Ort-Oze. That organisation takes Jews not trained in industry or agriculture and gives them courses of instruction in factories or on farms and enables them to be settled in certain countries where they do not become an economic difficulty. Some of these families have been settled in Poland, some in Czechoslovakia, some in the Crimea, some in the Ukraine, and some in Siberia. Clearly the establishment of some central fund, may be on an interest-bearing basis, would render possible the wider application of settlement. Moreover, it would bring in the element of justice in this problem which, I submit, is lacking at the present moment, because of the fact that the vast majority of the refugees have been received in two or three countries whereas certain countries have received almost none at all. It would clearly be just that those countries which have received most of the refugees, and are therefore bearing most of the cost, should be reimbursed by countries which have not taken their share in dealing with the problem which has been recognised to be international in character.

I hope very much, therefore, that consideration may be given to the possibility of establishing some fund from which those countries which have received most of the refugees may be, to some extent, reimbursed, may have money made available for the settlement of the refugees, so that they may not become an economic burden on the community concerned. It would have one other effect which, I think, is important. When you have a large mass of refugees in one country it is quite possible for the feeling to grow up that these refugees are the cause of all the economic troubles from which that particular country is suffering, so that you get an anti-foreign feeling growing up among the people which may sow the seeds of future international difficulty and even of war, and where a large number of the refugees are Jews you also get growing up Anti-Semitism which causes, and has caused in the past, such immense misery and suffering to large numbers of people. I hope very much that the answer we may get will indicate some sympathy on the part of the Government with this proposition.

There is one other small point to which I want to refer before coming to the question of the Saar, and that is the question of the extradition of refugees for political offences. A few, not many, cases have occurred in which refugees have, on the demand of their country, been extradited and have suffered very severely when taken back to their original country. We had a case of a man extradited from Holland a few months ago for an offence committed many years before, who was given six years imprisonment; and we have a case now in hand of a German who is in Switzerland, of whom extradition has been demanded, and it is expected that if he is in fact extradited he will be put to death as soon as he gets back. One feels that this international problem is rendered more difficult by this risk to refugees, and I hope that the weight of the British members of the League of Nations may be used in an attempt to safeguard against this danger without, of course, interfering with the full rights of sovereignty of the nations who are Members of the League of Nations.

These problems have been rendered worse in the last few weeks by the striking result of the Saar plebiscite, and by the fact that a considerable number of refugees from Germany had taken refuge in the Saar and that many inhabitants of the Saar itself will be compelled to become refugees after March 1. The number involved is estimated to be about 2,000 refugees from Germany in the Saar, of whom about 1,000 are Jewish, and it seems to me they are clearly refugees from Germany within the ordinary definition and therefore come under the High Commissioner appointed by the League of Nations. Again money is wanted, and in particular we have a considerable number of Jewish refugees who would, and could, settle in Palestine if money were available. It seems to me that the Saar constitutes a special problem both as regards refugees from Germany in the Saar and as regards Saarlanders who will become refugees from the Saar as soon as it returns to the German Reich.

I understand that the second part of this problem has been estimated to consist of perhaps 5,000 refugees. We know, according to a report in The Times a few days ago, that something like 7,500 individuals have applied for visas to leave the Saar, and of these the French Government have already admitted 3,700 refugees. They are mainly at Strasbourg, and the French Government has written an extremely important Memorandum to the League of Nations which I should like to mention because it brings out the international aspect of this problem. The French Government in its Memorandum to the League of Nations, dated January 18, stated that it was desirous at the outset of placing the question on an international plane and it went on to say: It desires to explain briefly to the Council of the League of Nations the reasons that have led it to adopt this conclusion and the consequences that the latter would seem to involve. It raised the point that France alone cannot be responsible for the refugees, and continued: The position of the League, of Nations as regards the refugees from the Saar is different from that in which it has been placed in all the other cases of refugees with which it has had to deal hitherto. For fifteen years the League has administered the Saar territory, the inhabitants of which have been in some sort its subjects. It is probable that the majority of those who, owing to their opinions, are now forced to leave their country, voted for the maintenance of the League's administration. The League therefore has a responsibilty towards them, not only that general responsibility of a humanitarian nature which is laid down in Article 23 of the Covenant, but a direct responsibility. Then it goes on to say: These consequences will in the first place be of a financial nature.

As regards the special responsibility of the League of Nations for the Saar-landers who have to leave the Saar, I hope our Government Will initiate and support proposals whereby League re- sponsibility may be accepted and clearly defined. It is not, of course, for an outsider to indicate how this can be done. One may merely remark that machinery does exist in the person of the High Commissioner and the High Commission, and, given funds, it would be clearly possible for him to deal with the problem. Not a great deal would be involved. I suppose that a very few thousand pounds divided among many nations would suffice at any rate to start to deal with the problem. I am quite certain that unless the problem is dealt with, and dealt with quickly, the fact of the existence of these refugees in the various countries may render much more difficult the fulfilment of the desire which is widely felt at the present moment in all countries and among all Governments that Germany should make an early return to the League of Nations. I believe the fact that this problem is not dealt with is an obstacle to the return of Germany to the League. Therefore, in view of the fact that it is widely considered extremely desirable that Germany should return to the League of Nations, I hope very much that the Government will give a sympathetic reply. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think the House is indebted to my noble friend who has just sat down for bringing this question before it, because it is one which is of enormous importance. "Enormous" perhaps, is an exaggerated word, so I will substitute of very great importance. I agree with almost everything my noble friend said, and particularly with one observation to which I shall not return; therefore I will say now that the great object is settlement and not relief. That is an essential fact of the situation. Merely to feed these unhappy individuals and keep them from starvation, though it may be necessary as an emergency measure, is no settlement of the question. I need not trouble your Lordships with any detailed description of the facts of the situation, because I agree, broadly, with what the noble Lord, Lord Marley, has said. I think I take a little more sanguine view of what has been done than he does. I believe the German refugees number 79,000 and it may be said that, in one way or another, something like a little over 50,000 have been dealt with. They may not have been dealt with altogether satisfactorily, but something has been done to deal with them. The outstanding liability, I think, is about 27,000. I may, however, be wrong, and the noble Lord's information may be more correct than mine.

It is worth while for us to emphasise and to realise that of that 27,000 close upon half are in France. The French very justly and continually press upon the Governing Body of the High Commission, of which I happen to be a member, that this is a situation which is very unfair to them, and it must be admitted that it is a very striking fact that their liability in this matter is very much greater than ours and that we have done, as a Government and as a State, almost nothing to help in the situation. We have been very rigid in excluding refugees, and we have usually forbidden them to try to earn their living when they come here. There are only about 2,500 here. The French Government have at any rate fed and housed the refugees, I am afraid very imperfectly, but they have done that to a great extent, with very much larger numbers to deal with. That is merely by the way, but I think it has some bearing on the main contention which I am going to venture to put before your Lordships.

My noble friend spoke appreciatively of the work of the High Commission, and I think he did say—though I am not sure he quite made clear to your Lordships—that the High Commission has no money of its own at all, not a farthing. No money is subscribed even from private sources to the High Commission. The relief is all done by private enterprise, and, as my noble friend very justly said, by far the greater part has come from Jewish sources. There is one particular activity which I should like to mention for fear of appearing to do injustice, and that is the very remarkable work that has been done for the academical people who have been excluded from Germany. There really has been a very remarkable effort on the part of all the Universities, particularly in this country, and elsewhere also, by which they have provided places for the men, many of them very distinguished persons, who have been forced to leave their country. In many cases payment has been provided for them, at any rate for a certain time, and that has been done very largely by a kind of volun- tary levy made by the University people out of salaries which are certainly not extravagantly high. That is worth remarking on. But it is true that, broadly speaking, the non-Jewish refugees have not been so well cared for, or anything like so well cared for, by the non-Jewish population as the Jewish refugees have been cared for by the Jewish community throughout the world.

There is one other observation I should like to make. The noble Lord's Motion deals primarily with German refugees, but it would be a great mistake to suppose that the refugee problem is only a German refugee problem. There are a very considerable number of refugees from a great number of other countries. There are Russian refugees, there are Yugo-Slavian refugees, and I was told the other day that there are a very large number now of Spanish refugees. Moreover, we have the problem, with which we are more familiar, of the Assyrian question, and the old but still painful question of the Armenian refugees. All these constitute a very serious problem. They constitute—I wish I could convince noble Lords of it and particularly the Government—a serious danger to the international position. It is a great mistake to suppose that this is merely a humanitarian question. It is not so. I shall come back to that in a moment. It is an international question, and an international question of a serious character.

You have these bodies of refugees in the different countries. There is nothing more miserable than a refugee until he is settled in his new country. He has no work; he is living, perhaps, on his own resources, perhaps on charitable funds that are subscribed; he is necessarily idle; he must be discontented; he has nothing to do except—and really I do not blame him for it—to grumble and perhaps conspire against his old country. The existence of these people all over the world is a serious danger, though I do not pretend that it is one of the major causes of the continuance of international unrest. Believe me, it is one of the causes and one of the circumstances which make it so difficult for the world to reach a position of complete stability without which we cannot hope to overcome the great difficulties that now beset us.

I would like to say just a word about the actual machinery which exists for dealing with this general refugee problem. It is a little more complicated than my noble friend described. There was set up some years ago an organisation in the League of Nations itself, which is now called the Nansen Organisation because it was created by the energy of that very great man Dr. Nansen, who continually impressed upon the nations of the world their duty to deal with the refugee question. It was mainly, I think, with Russian and Armenian refugees that he was concerned, and he did not spare himself in the slightest degree. Indeed, his death at a comparatively early age was very largely due to the immense exertions and hardships which he undertook to serve this cause. That organisation still exists. It has done very remarkable work, and it has done it with extreme economy. It has not indeed completed its work—there are still many refugees of the very class with which it was established to deal—but it has done a great deal. As probably many of your Lordships know, the condition of some of the Russian refugees, for instance, is really very pitiable. These unhappy people, living largely in the Far East, are driven to the utmost extremity to support life.

That is one organisation, and a very useful organisation. Then there is the High Commission which was created recently in order to deal with German refugees. But whereas the Nansen Organisation is part of the League of Nations—I am sorry to be so technical, but it is important that this should be apprehended—the High Commission is not part of the League of Nations. The League of Nations nominated the High Commissioner. It recommended the creation of a body called the Governing Body—so called for the old reason locus a non lucendo, since its governing powers are nothing at all. It created this body on the strict understanding that it was to have nothing more to do with it. That was a compromise to meet the views of Germany, who was and still remains part of the League, a compromise which I think is most unhappy and has worked exceedingly badly. Now, in addition, we have the Saar refugees, and I understand it is now held by a great many people at Geneva and by many other people that the Saar refugees do not come under the High Commissioner, but must be dealt with separately. The matter, I understand, is to be considered at the next meeting of the Council of the League. If that view prevails, you will have three entirely separate organisations dealing with the refugee problem, apart from the further separate problem of the Assyrians, which is being dealt with again by other machinery. That is a very unsatisfactory position, and I do not think it is working well.

The High Commissioner, I think, has done all he could, but his position is one of extreme difficulty. He has no funds to administer, he has nothing to give to these people, and all he can do is to try to facilitate their negotiations with foreign Governments and to find out, by great exertions, by travel and so on, some method of settlement in different countries which he can recommend to the refugees. It is that aspect of the question which I venture to present specially to His Majesty's Government. I beg them to consider this question of refugees as a whole, and to have a really effective policy upon it. I should like them to consider very carefully whether these organisations ought not to be amalgamated into one organisation directly under the League of Nations. I attach great importance to that, not only because of the financial aspect of the question, on which I will say a word presently, but also because if it is under the League of Nations it becomes subject to the whole of the machinery of the League. That means that from time to time the reports of the proceedings of the organisation are made to the League of Nations, public opinion is kept alive as to what is actually going on, and the Assembly can, and would, debate the matter if there was anything worth debating. So you get the whole organisation of public opinion, on which support of the League rests, at the back of this as part of the general activities of the League. I believe that would be a great advantage.

I put this forward the other day at the Governing Body and I was met with two objections. Perhaps I ought to describe the Governing Body. It consists of the representatives of about a dozen Governments, who have no power at all. They sit round a table and their function, as I understand it, is to do their best by moral influence to assist the High Commissioner. I do not wish to say a word against the members of the Governing Body—I am sure they are all admirable men—but they are for the most part officials of the various public departments of the different Governments. They have no power of initiative and no power to come to any decision except such as has been approved by their Governments. I must express the view that, as at present constituted, the usefulness of the Governing Body is very doubtful. If any proposal at all novel is made, all they can do is to say that they will refer it to their Governments. If the proposal is not novel, they read out the instructions which they have received from their Governments. I really do not quite see what particular advantage there is in the Governing Body as at present constituted. But we did discuss this particular question, and, as I say, two objections were raised.

In the first place it was suggested that if you put the German refugees under the League, that will be resented by Germany. I cannot believe that. What is offensive to Germany is to deal with German refugees on a different footing from other refugees. If all refugees were put under one organisation I do not see why it should be offensive to Germany, and do not believe it would be. After all, the one thing against which Germany is always protesting is being treated differently from other nations. The other objection, and perhaps the more serious one, was that it might throw some cost on the Governments concerned. That would not necessarily follow, but there would be no doubt a certain fulcrum on which you could press for greater contributions from the Governments concerned. It may be that that would happen. I quite agree that a great deal of this expenditure is charitable expenditure, and may be fairly left to charitable sources, but if I am right in my contention there is an aspect of it which is political and therefore should rightly fall upon the Governments concerned. The principle has often been adopted of the Government giving one pound for every one pound subscribed by charity. That might be adopted in this case, or if the Government would not go as far as that, they might subscribe some fraction of one pound for every one pound of charitable contributions.

It does seem to me that we ought to clear our minds about this question of refugees. It is too important a matter to be left to be dealt with as each hard case arises, with a claim that a little should be done, or that a little more should be done, to meet a particular case. I am satisfied that this is a political question of great importance, and that it has a bearing upon the peace of the world. The very Resolution which set up the High Commissioner, as my noble friend pointed out, emphasised the international aspect of the question. So does the Memorandum which the French Government recently communicated to the League. But quite apart from that, it is obvious on the face of it that this has a great international aspect. The presence of these refugees raises questions of an international character. Partly questions of general unrest and partly questions of how you are to deal with foreign bodies in a homogeneous State. All these questions are raised, and they are really serious international questions and ought to be dealt with as such.

I know that it is said that British interests are not directly concerned. Until we get out of that way of looking at international questions progress is very difficult. British interests! If some question of territory is involved, if some question of trade is involved, or still more if the safety of some individual British subject is involved, everybody says: "British interests are involved; we must take action, and very strong action." I do not dispute it, but after all the interest which we have, infinitely more important than any of those questions except, perhaps, the safety of a British subject—infinitely more important than any territorial question or any trade question—is the preservation of peace. It really is at the bottom of the whole future of this country. In the very well known and brilliant speech which was delivered not very long ago by Mr. Lloyd George, he very rightly said that none of the proposals which he was about to put forward had any value or any sense at all unless they were based on a proper policy for the preservation of the peace of the world. The whole prosperity of the country, the whole recovery of the country, the whole future of the country, depend upon the preservation of peace.

Therefore anything that affects the tranquillity of the world, anything that threatens the friendship of one nation for another, is a matter of the most intense and direct British interest that you can possibly conceive; and to tell me that because the refugees do not actually belong to Britain and are not actually British subjects therefore there is no British interest in the matter, is simply to fly in the face of all the real facts of the case. Until we can realise the truth of that central proposition, that our great interest is the preservation of peace, and not only say it as we do say it on platforms, but really act on it and believe in it, we shall never succeed in restoring tranquillity and peace to the world and prosperity to this country.


My Lords, the question raised by my noble friend and supported by the noble Viscount is one which must engage all our sympathies and is one of extraordinary interest, but I could wish that my noble friend or the noble Viscount had cleared up the great difficulty which must necessarily arise in the minds of all of us as to what are the classes of persons who constitute these refugees, and whether they can all be dealt with in precisely the same manner. Some are refugees because they have been expelled from their countries; others are refugees because life has been made very uncomfortable for them in their countries; others are refugees because life has been made impossible for them in their countries; others are, or will be, refugees (as from the Saar) because they think that life will be made impossible or uncomfortable for them in their country.

That is the very unfortunate position of a great many people in this world, even in this country, who are expelled from the institutions of their own country and have no means of livelihood, though here at any rate the "dole" is provided for them. I do wish that in making this proposal those who support it had given us a more general proposition as to the kinds of person who, having left their countries for one reason or another, are to be supported by international organisation. I merely wanted to raise that point, and perhaps the noble Lord who replies for the Government will take a comprehensive view and give us a definition of the classes of person to whom he thinks such international action could apply. Failing that, I cannot help saying that this particular ad hoc arrangement which has been made for dealing with the various classes, seems to me to be the only possible kind of arrangement which could have been made at the time.


My Lords, I desire to support the Motion of my noble friend, because I happen to be president of the Save the Children Fund, one of the bodies which are attempting to deal with the lot of the refugees from Germany. I want to tell your Lordships that our experience shows the extraordinary urgency of the case my noble friend has put, and it shows, too, I think, that he has been very moderate indeed in the way in which he has stated it. Experience shows that the problem is too great for charity to deal with. Over 70,000 persons have been uprooted from their homes, and perhaps of all the unfortunate circumstances that one hears of or imagines, the situation of those who are positively uprooted and driven, workless and homeless, to another country is the most miserable. Over 70,000 persons uprooted like that form an immense problem.

The different needs of different classes of these refugees have been grappled with by various societies. In England five or six bodies have dealt with different sides of it. The Society of Friends has been conspicuous; the Save the Children Fund along with them has dealt with the necessary though most unsatisfactory business of mere starvation relief; the academic world has been dealt with by a special body; the international Students' Service has helped an immense number of the expelled students; the trade unions have done a great deal for their fellow Socialists; and, as we all know, the Jewish community has with extraordinary generosity done the bulk of the work. But our experience shows that if the question is seriously faced it is impossible not to conclude that it must be dealt with internationally. The Assembly of the League adopted resolutions indicating unanimously that the collaboration of the Members of the League was essential, and the Council shortly afterwards established the High Commission. The Government have chosen to leave action in the main to private charity, and private charity has done its best.

I would like for a moment to tell your Lordships what I myself saw when I went to make inquiries on behalf of my own society in Paris. The pitiable situation of the refugees there could not be exaggerated. You have in Paris the greatest mass of the refugees. I saw, for instance, a converted military hospital into which were crowded single men, a large number of children, and families, attempting to make shift, a number of them in a single dormitory, sometimes without any heat in winter. I also saw a very large number of refugees in the kind of furnished room which is to be found in Paris and in very dark and crowded quarters. I saw families in deplorable dejection. A particular family comes to mind in which the mother of two boys who had been roughly driven from their school in Germany, was the daughter of a Protestant pastor, but that particular family was banished on the grounds of the Aryan policy though entirely sympathetic with the Christian community. Perhaps the saddest part of the fate of the refugees is that they are not in the main people accustomed to hard outdoor work. I have seen refugees from peasant communities. During the War I saw great masses of Serbian refugees, but peasants are in a very different situation from that of the kind of refugee who has come out of Germany, people very largely earning their living by brain work, lawyers, doctors, journalists, pastors, some Roman Catholic priests, many of them people from well-to-do families, accustomed to the same sort of circumstances that we know ourselves, and on that account suffering immensely more than refugees from peasant communities.

The Save the Children Fund is dealing in Paris with about 1,300 children, the great bulk of whom are positively suffering from malnutrition. Only 27 per cent. of them, according to recent inquiry, were up to normal weight, and to deal with these the society provides nurseries, crèches, distribution of food and clothes, and there is daily deterioration from hunger, overcrowding, and, perhaps as much as from anything, from the anxiety of mind which must weigh upon these people all the time. If ever there was a case for generous giving, there is certainly one here. The burden, as we have already heard, has been faced in a remarkable degree by the French authorities, mainly with the aid of the Jewish community, and the burden is too great to be a fair one for France alone to undertake. The Times said very rightly the other day: France, helpful as she is proving herself, cannot he expected to bear the whole burden. Private charity may afford some partial relief, but properly organised relief can only come through the League. We have learned how, although the great bulk of the money comes from Jewish sources, there are in fact 20 per cent. of non-Jews among the refugees. I think the proportion of the fund contributed by Jewish sources was indeed understated. I believe the funds from non-Jewish sources have not really equalled more than 4 per cent. of the total amount. I think if there is a responsibility felt by the Jewish community for their fellow religionists, it would be equally fair that those who claim to be Christians should feel an equal responsibility for their fellow Christians.

As to our place in the matter, it is very natural that with our greater burden of unemployment than France has had to face there should be represented in the action of the Government hesitation to undertake any responsibility, but after all France is suffering more and more from unemployment at this day, and we are not less responsible because comparatively few of the refugees are in this country. I think our part ought to be recognised very clearly, as has already been urged—recognised in regard to our responsibility as individuals for giving where we can, because in any case private charity must take a great part in the work, but, more than that, it would not seem to be at all unreasonable that our Government should take its part in the particular expense of settlement. Lord Cecil justly remarked that settlement is of the essence of the solution. There is a scheme for settling refugees fitted for settlement in South America. It is not a very large proportion of the refugees in France who are so fitted, but the cost would nevertheless be over £200,000 for that particular scheme of settlement, and obviously private charity is not able to face a sum like that.

I would make a suggestion also with regard to the administrative action of the Government. There are cases, for instance, in this country where refugees have children of elementary school age. It would not seem to be excessive generosity to allow ordinary educational facilities to those children. Yet there have been cases where children, who by inadvertence had been allowed to take their places in an elementary school, have been turned out and their parents given notice that on no account would these children be allowed to grow up in this country. There is also the cost of sickness. The funds of the relief societies are largely occupied in the great expense of dealing with sickness. The system of public assistance that is in operation surely might be allowed to deal with the cost of the sick, which at present reduces the funds available for normal relief.

Chiefly I would urge, in regard to the administration of the Aliens Act, that there is room for improvement. Mr. Eden, in answering a question in the other House last summer, claimed that our Government is ready to admit the German refugees if they are not about to take work from our own people, but I could give your Lordships cases of refugees who have been refused admittance to this country, although they had definite invitations to stay with friends known to be able to support them, and although they had no intention of taking work in this country. I must say, although I regret to do so, that there has been action on the part of the immigration officers which is high-handed and unworthy of the traditions of this country, and I would be very glad to furnish the Government with particular cases which justify me in saying that. The great tradition of hospitality to unfortunate refugees from foreign countries that this country possesses, has been maintained by the action of the private individuals who have given to the funds, and not by the action of the immigration authorities. I think that the Home Office might very well instruct their immigration officers to act at least as liberally as Mr. Eden said it was their duty to do, speaking in another place last summer.

Of course we cannot forget the cause of all this trouble and we may deeply regret that the German Government alienates would-be friends by expelling so many of their citizens who have been guilty of no moral fault, but our responsibility is none the less international because of the source of the trouble. The refugees are there, and their condition has been rightly described as a public scandal. The Society of Friends very rightly said in a recent appeal in the Press that The High Commissioner is unable to do more than make further appeals to private funds, and the refugees are unable to obtain permits to leave or to work, and they must continue to do the only thing they are permitted to do, that is, to starve or to return to Germany, where concentration camps may await them. Well, we are bound to agree with the Friends that it is high time the Governments of the League dealt with a state of affairs which is truly described as a disgrace to humanity.


My Lords, in the absence of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who is away in the Middle East on official business, I have been asked to give the reply to this Motion. I must first of all thank the noble Lord in whose name the Motion is down on the Paper for having given me previously some indication of the lines on which he would put forward his case, although I must confess that, not so much in his case but in the case of other 'speakers, the speeches have travelled a fairly long way beyond the Motion on the Order Paper, as I believe so often happens in your Lordships' House.

The first portion of the Motion begins by asking whether refugees from the Saar are considered to come under the general responsibility of the High Commissioner for Refugees, Jewish and other, coming from Germany, and at the risk of a good deal of repetition I think it is important that we should get the position entirely clear. The position is that on January 19 the League Council decided to instruct its Rapporteur for Refugee Questions, acting in collaboration with the Council Committee of Three on Saar Questions, to submit at its next session proposals regarding the settlement of the refugees from the Saar. Not only is nothing at present known as, to the form the proposals in question are likely to take, so that any statement which I might make on the subject would be premature, but it would in any case be most improper for His Majesty's Government as one Member of the Council to give public expression to views on a subject on which the Council as a whole has decided to obtain the opinion and recommendations from a special Committee. I regret therefore that I am not in a position to make any statement with regard to this part of the noble Lord's inquiry. It should not be assumed, of course, that His Majesty's Government have formed no views on the subject, but it would not be appropriate that I should make a statement just now.

To turn now to the second part of the noble Lord's Motion, which enquires what action is being taken by His Majesty's Government to assist the High Commissioner in his general task of settling the refugees, I think it may be useful if, in order to dispel any misunderstanding which may exist as to the position and functions of the High Commissioner, I were to remind your Lordships of the circumstances in which the High Commission came into being. On October 11, 1933, the League Assembly adopted a Resolution suggesting that, as the presence in various countries of refugees from Germany constituted a problem which could only be solved by international co-operation, the Council should appoint a High Commissioner to negotiate and direct such co-operation; and should invite States to be represented on a Governing Body which would assist the High Commissioner in his work and receive from him periodical reports on the development and fulfilment of his task. These reports would be forwarded by the Governing Body to the States likely to be able to assist in the action contemplated. The Resolution further suggested that the expenses of this cooperation should be defrayed from funds contributed voluntarily from private or other sources. On the following day, October 12, the Council gave effect to this Resolution of the Assembly by appointing a United States citizen, Mr. J. G. McDonald, to the post of High Commissioner, and by inviting the Governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Uruguay to be represented on the Governing Body. These Governments all accepted this invitation, as did the Government of Yugo-Slavia, which was subsequently also invited to be represented. The Council finally authorised the advance to the High Commission (as suggested in the Resolution of the Assembly) of a sum of 25,000 Swiss francs as a loan for initial administrative expenses. This sum has, I may say, since been repaid.

It will be clear to your Lordships from this brief explanation that it was the intention of the League Assembly and of the League Council to create, for the purpose of dealing with the problems raised by the existence of the refugees from Germany, an independent institution, entirely free from League or governmental supervision, in no sense subordinated either to the Governments or the League, and supported by entirely voluntary contributions drawn from private sources. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, was anxious that some form of central fund or pool should be created for this purpose, but I think that throughout emphasis has been laid on the desirability of this being done through private sources and voluntary contributions, and that nothing was to be expected from Governments in the way of money. No proposal has been made to the Governments on behalf of the High Commissioner that any such fund should be created.

In a word, it may be said that by the action they took at Geneva in October, 1933, the Governments concerned placed the question of the refugees in the hands of the High Commission, though they provided themselves with a channel of communication—this new organisation—and showed that they meant to keep in touch with developments by appointing representatives to its Governing Body. The Governing Body, on which His Majesty's Government are fortunate in having Lord Cecil as their representative—I may add that Lord Cecil was elected Chairman by his colleagues of the Governing Body at its very first meeting at Lausanne in December, 1933—have held a series of meetings, mostly in London, at which reports have been received from the High Commissioner on the progress of his work and resolutions adopted embodying recommendations designed to facilitate the settlement of the refugees in accordance with the schemes evolved by him. It will be apparent to your Lordships that administrative action on the part of the Governments may occasionally be required in order to give effect to these recommendations: and it has accordingly been the practice of the High Commissioner's office to forward such resolutions periodically to the Governments concerned—not only to the Governments with representatives on the Governing Com- mission—with a request for an expression of views.

I do not need to assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have invariably subjected these recommendations to the most benevolent and careful consideration; and favourable replies have been returned and appropriate action taken, whenever such a course has been at all possible. A spirit of sympathy will continue to inform the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the endeavours of the High Commissioner in the discharge of the task which has been entrusted to him, and in cases where administrative action may be necessary the High Commissioner will be able, as hitherto, to count on the most careful consideration being devoted by His Majesty's Government to all suggestions which may be brought to its notice through the appropriate channels of communication.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, went on to suggest in his speech that some form of amalgamation should be adopted in this work so that the League should take it on itself. The only information I can give him on that point is that His Majesty's Government have already received, through the medium of the Governing Body of the High Commission, the suggestion put forward by the Advisory Council of the High Commission that the High Commission should become an integral part of the League of Nations. His Majesty's Government are considering this suggestion, but they would remark that it is not for them nor for the Governments represented on the Governing Body, nor even for the League Council itself, to take any decision involving so fundamental an alteration in the status of the High Commission. As noble Lords will remember, the High Commission was brought into existence as a consequence of a Resolution by the League Assembly in 1933. By the terms of that Resolution the organisation which was to be set up to deal with the German refugee problems was most carefully separated from any direct connection with the League and from any control by the Governments, and was established on an entirely independent basis. Any such far-reaching alteration in the status of the High Commission would therefore, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, require the assent of the League Assembly which, I believe, in the ordinary course of events, will not meet until the autumn.


Nobody, I think, suggested for a moment that His Majesty's Government could do it off their own bat, but the Government could have a policy on the subject which they could submit and press on the Assembly.


That is all the in formation I can give the noble Viscount on the policy of the Government at the present moment. Then the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, invited me to give a definition, I think, of the different classes of refugee, but I should prefer to leave that to someone who is more ingenious in mind than myself. Everybody is aware that there are a great many different classes of refugee, and that is one of the difficulties of giving any precise definition on the point. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, in the course of his interesting speech made some reference to the hard administration of the Aliens Act. I have no particular information which I can give to the House on that matter, but I must confess I have heard no such complaints myself, nor can I refrain from reminding your Lordships that, sympathetic as the Government is on this question and sympathetic as we must all be in so serious a matter as this, we have at certain times, especially in times like these, to have regard to the conditions of employment and unemployment in this country in dealing with these matters. I think that is all the information I can give to the House at present regarding the matters on the Paper.


My Lords, I have no doubt that the sympathy expressed by the noble Lord will bring great satisfaction to the refugees who will continue to suffer during the next few months pending the Report by the Mexican Delegate to the League of Nations, which will be made at the next Session of the Council, I suppose, in May; and equally they will continue to suffer during the present year because in any case no action by the League as regards a fund can take place under the constitution of the League until after the Assembly meets in September, and then not until January 1 when the new Budget takes effect. That is an office point of view, but hardly a humanitarian point of view, and it is not one which deals with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cecil—namely, the vital effect of the continued existence of this refugee problem as a threat to world peace. That is an aspect with which the noble Lord failed to deal at all.

It seems to me he took far too narrow a view of the responsibilities of His Majesty's Government, and I am quite certain that from that point of view there will be considerable regret at the comparative inaction of the Government. But at least we have learned this, that if the High Commissioner will himself put forward proposals whereby the various Governments can co-operate in ensuring the administration of the High Commissioner's office by contributions or other means, this Government will give sympathetic consideration to pressing that point of view on the League of Nations. I hope that the High Commissioner will take cognisance of that expression of opinion by the representative of the Government and will, through his Governing Body and through his association with the representatives of the nations involved, prepare a plan which can secure the definite practical assistance of His Majesty's Government, in addition to that of other Governments, and not merely their sympathy. I request permission to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.