HL Deb 14 December 1938 vol 111 cc574-603

LORD MARLEY rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps are being taken, in conjunction with the Inter-Governmental Committee or independently, towards the relief of the suffering of refugees from Germany, Czecho-Slovakia and other countries, and the reconstruction of their lives in this and other parts of the world; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I cannot hope to emulate the brevity of the noble Lord, Lord Alness, on the Marriage (Scotland) Bill in dealing with the Motion that stands in my name, but I shall detain the House for as short a time as possible, knowing that your Lordships will not object to spending some time on the subject of discussion because it is a well-known fact that members of this House are always chosen to lead charitable and other causes. Their names are at the head of all the claims on our generosity which appear, especially round about Christmas, and such is the generosity of members of this House that we discovered on a recent Joint Committee of both Houses, when dealing with collecting charities, that there were members of your Lordships' House supporting not entirely worthy causes because of those instincts to help which are clearly held by all members of this House.

This evening for a moment we can examine a cause which is a very worthy cause, and one which is, in point of fact, not a charity at all. This question of refugees, it seems to me, is really a very remarkable opportunity, and in all probability represents a very good investment on the part of this country and the remainder of the British Empire. It is not only a moral question, it is an economic question and has the possibility of great economic advantages. I hope, therefore, if I suggest there should be further aid by the Government to help the evacuation and settlement of refugees, I shall have the support of your Lordships' House. It will be necessary very briefly to summarise the position before we look into the possibilities which I have suggested in the Motion. The last debate we had on this subject was raised by the Lord Bishop of Chichester in July last. That arose out of the Evian Conference, which was called on the initiative of President Roosevelt to deal with the new pressure of refugees from Germany and Austria. The conditions in July had become so bad that they had really aroused the sympathy and anxiety of the world, and the result was that the British Government accepted the invitation of the United States Government to join in the Conference at Evian, and by that means showed not only their sympathy but their acceptance of a share of responsibility for dealing with this terrific problem. Incidentally, by sending a Cabinet Minister as head of the British delegation—Lord Winterton—they sent the only Cabinet Minister, and I think the only Minister, who was present at Evian. Thereby the Government showed their realisation of the extent of the problem and their willingness to help.

Since July matters have really become a thousand times worse. There is no need for me to dilate on the sufferings which are being inflicted on a defenceless minority in certain countries. The newspapers are filled with stories of horror, and I suppose it is difficult to find any parallel for such a position, at any rate in recent history. I went to the meeting at the Mansion House last week where a very young Peer, Lord Rothschild, made a speech. It was a very remarkable, very restrained, very moving speech to listen to, and in the course of it he gave one example. He said that his advisers estimated that there had been in Austria alone, since March of this year, something like 7,000 suicides owing to the suffering inflicted. To-day the alternatives before these would-be refugees seem to be some sort of torture or death, a complete degradation of the whole of their standard of life to what would appear to be almost a sub-human existence if they remain in those countries, or emigration. As to the extent of the problem of those who desire to emigrate, I gather, and I am sure other noble Lords gather, from the appeals we get from individuals and groups, that there can be few who do not desire if it is possible to get out of those countries.

An estimate of the extent of this problem has been given by the Government in another place as being somewhere over 500,000 of the Jewish minority, not less than an equal number of the "part-Jews," and thousands of political, religious, and pacifist would-be emigrants who are not Jews at all. Sir John Hope Simpson, who is such a very well-known and sympathetic expert on this subject, speaking at the meeting of members and others in this Palace last week, gave as his opinion that the Jews were rather less than half the total of those who were afflicted. We also have the very interesting statement by the Prime Minister in another place—and I carefully avoid all ipsissima verba in this matter—that there have been already some 120,000 of these refugees permanently settled in other countries. That is a very large number.

There is one other group that I would mention in analysing the immediate problem, and that is the very tragic group—and I hope very much that the Government will be able to give us a little help on this matter—who are now stranded between Poland and Germany. They number to-day about 6,000. There has been given to them help from a number of external voluntary organisations, such as the American Joint Distribution Committee, the O.R.T.O.Z.E. and others, and they have been getting help from the Polish Refugee Fund in this country. I think I am right in saying that Mr. Lansbury made himself responsible for heading that appeal. I want to say in passing one word in connection with the attitude of the Polish Government on this matter, because I think I should remind your Lordships that these are not in fact Polish citizens. They are persons possibly of Polish birth but certainly not of Polish citizenship. Originally there were some 15,000 expelled from Germany, of whom about 8,000 or 9,000 were received into Poland, and only this balance of some 6,000 are stranded on the frontier. I had a letter from a Jewish observer in Poland from whom these words came: I must insist upon the fact that the Polish authorities accepted the refugees in a very noble way. In Silesia (in the first days) they were allowed to pass the border even without passports, and the Governor of the district gave them a special train (without any payment) to take them to the various big cities. I have heard about policemen who carried on their backs children and old women. The authorities did, in fact, facilitate the settlement in the course of perhaps a week or ten days of some 8,000 or 9,000.

That was a very generous attitude on the part of a very poverty-stricken country, a country which is generally considered to be anti-Semitic but which in fact did receive with great generosity these poor people. I do not in any way desire to belittle what has been done in this country; quite the contrary. A great deal has been done, and we do know that during the last five years, according to a statement by the Prime Minister on November 21, some 11,000 have been settled in this country. Some 16,000 I think were received, and about 5,000 have moved on. In addition to this immediate problem, there is the potential problem, which is very serious and which we should bear in mind. In Poland there are about 3,400,000 in the Jewish minority alone, and there is among certain classes a growing feeling of anti-Semitism, not from my own personal observation among the ordinary agricultural and factory workers but among certain sections, and it is tragic to realise that there is a group in Poland who would desire to add to the stream of refugees coming from Germany and Austria by the adoption of methods similar to those being used in those countries.

I came across a quotation from a paper called the Gazette Polska in which they say the only way to solve the Jewish problem is to use the same methods as are used in the Third Reich. The demand by Poland for Colonies was based on much the same sort of point of view. I mention that because it shows not only that we have an immense problem to face immediately, but that there are possibilities of that problem within the not too distant future becoming infinitely greater and infinitely more difficult to solve. Added to that, the position in Hungary and in Rumania, where already there is a process of denationalisation going on among the minorities, indicates that there are considerable dangers of the rush of to-day becoming even the torrent of to-morrow.

There is no need to go into the causes of this except to mention that one of the chief causes must be said to be the stoppage of immigration into various countries, and particularly into the United States of America. The average number of immigrants into the United States for the years 1881 to 1913 was 650,000 a year, of which a very small percentage were Jews—I suppose not more than 8 per cent. were Jews—and that has been reduced to something like 43,000 a year in the past six years. That damming up of these potential emigrants from those Eastern European countries is partly the cause, or at any rate is an economic explanation of some of the trouble. The immediate problem is being dealt with to some extent by a number and variety of organisations. There is, of course, the League of Nations, which dealt with refugees of the type of the Russians and the Assyrians and so on through the Nansen Office. Then, in 1933, the League appointed a High Commissioner who presided over the evacuation of refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, coming from Germany. The present High Commissioner is Sir Neill Malcolm, whose good work is recognised by everybody. At the end of this year, on 31st December, those two organisations, the Nansen Office and the High Commissioner's Office, come to an end and rise again next day as a joint organisation under a new High Commissioner, again a very distinguished civil servant, Sir Herbert Emerson, who will become the High Commissioner for the new organisation.

While we were not faced with the new difficulties in Germany, there can be no question from the most recent report of the League of Nations that the trouble in regard to refugees was in process of solving itself. Then we were faced with the new rush to which I have referred. There was that new exodus which called forth the Evian Conference of July. The object of that Conference was, in the first place, the orderly evacuation of the refugees, or the persons who were becoming refugees at that time, from Germany and Austria, and also transit and settlement in other countries. As I understand the position, there is a very important development which has just occurred in this connection and I would be very glad if the noble Earl who replies for the Government could give some information as to me visit of Dr. Schacht to this country, which is reported in The Times this morning. I understand that Dr. Schacht is coming over with Dr. Beyen, the President of the Bank of International Settlements, and with Mr. Montagu Norman, who I understand has something to do with the Bank of England, and there is said to be about to be discussed the possibility of refugees from Germany bringing out property with them. It was one of the most important recommendations of the Evian Conference that the new Director, Mr. Rublee, should get in touch with the German Government and see to what extent refugees could be allowed to bring out property in order to make it easier for them to be settled. It is very important to know what is in the minds of Dr. Schacht and Dr. Beyen in regard to that. So far the Inter-Governmental Committee which arose out of the Evian Conference has completely failed to get in touch with Germany with regard to this property, unless I am wrongly informed. As to that, the noble Earl will no doubt tell your Lordships what is the position.

The task now facing us as a result of the claims in connection with the dastardly murder of a German diplomat in Paris a few weeks ago is, of course, immediate evacuation. I cannot help feeling that it will be the desire of all of us who have read the appeals from various organisations to help in that immediate task, even though some may have misgivings as to the economic risks of a very generous attitude at the present moment. I think it must be pointed out that there is a great difference between the countries contiguous to Germany—Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and so on—and highly industrialised countries like Great Britain, which cannot in any case be countries of permanent settlement on any large scale but must be transit countries to receive and pass on these unhappy people, perhaps after training, to the eventual settlement countries. I think we must pay tribute to France, which has probably received more of these refugees than all the other countries put together. The French are, I suppose, in great difficulties, for not only have they had to receive refugees from the North but thousands and thousands of Spanish refugees—I believe 25,000. Other countries, of course, have helped and I should like to mention particularly the offer from Australia to receive over three years 15,000 settlers.

Let me say one word about the United States in order to bring to the notice of your Lordships the difference between the policy in this country and in the United States. The United States have a numerical quota for immigrants, but in this country we have no quota. We only limit entry, apparently, by capacity to secure maintenance, and unhappily for the moment the size of the problem has resulted in a slowness of procedure both in the voluntary organisations and in the Aliens Department of the Home Office which is not a desired or desirable slowness. The United States have a quota for Germany of 27,000 a year. The United States representative at Evian, Mr. Myron Taylor, made an offer that any unfulfilled portion of the quota in any year should be added to the 27,000 available in the following year. That was a very valuable gesture because the quota in fact had never been anything like filled. But the applications of persons desiring to go to the United States have reached such enormous proportions that people who are receiving a quota number cannot use that quota number for three or four years. I have had a letter from the American Consul in Berlin dealing with a certain case, in which he says that from calculations made it is likely that these persons will not receive visas before the lapse of several years according to their place on the waiting list. They have got their quota number, but they cannot get visas because of the quota limitations. I venture to think that our own system is in some ways preferable, because it is capable of being expanded in times of great emergency. I have not mentioned Palestine in this connection, because we debated Palestine last week, and I personally accept the position that it would be undesirable to do anything to jeopardise the coming Conference.

May I say one word about the machinery in this country for dealing with this problem? Broadly speaking, the position is that those desiring to bring over refugees have to apply to what is called the Co-ordinating Committee. That is a Committee representing some eleven organisations which sorts out among the various organisations the various groups of refugees. The requirements of the Government were laid down a short time ago in the House of Commons. The first is a guarantee that these persons should never become any public charge in this country. It is an unlimited guarantee, and a guarantee which anybody would face, I should have thought, with some trepidation. Still that is the regulation and I wish to say that I understand it is administered as leniently as possible by the Department concerned. A second demand by the Government concerns the ultimate prospect of further immigration or of settlement in this country. The private organisations, having met the demands of the Government, pass on the applicants to the Aliens Department at the Home Office and if that Department approves the recommendation of the organisation concerned the British Consul is instructed to issue a visa.

Let me say that I think everyone who has had anything to do with attempts to aid refugees will agree that the officials in the Aliens Department of the Home Office have been extremely courteous and polite, and always extremely helpful. I have met in telephoning, in visiting, in trying to get through cases, nothing but helpfulness from these officials who—I am sure the noble Earl knows this—have been hopelessly overworked in the last few weeks. In spite of additions that have been made to the staff of the Aliens Department, there is still a very considerable delay. I was approached by a noble Lord yesterday who has some influence with a number of big companies, and who offers not less than two hundred extra staff, if the Aliens Department will use them, drawn from the Alliance Assurance Company, the Prudential Assurance Company and the Co-operative Wholesale Society. They are trained people who would come in and help, to expedite the tremendous pressure which is being made upon the Aliens Department at the present moment.

One other suggestion I should like to make is that an inquiry department might be established at the Aliens Office to intercept inquiries which are being made all day, not only by Members of Parliament but also by thousands and thousands of anxious members of the public, who are constantly having cases to deal with. The present position of the telephone exchange there is, broadly, that they keep somebody to say automatically that the required person is not there—simply because there is a limit to human endurance. That, of course, is causing much anxiety and, in fact, is causing delay, because proper cases are not getting through. If the Department had, shall I say, a number of searchers who, when an inquiry comes through for George Jones or whoever it may be, would be, as it were, detectives, would search round and find where the particular file is and, without interfering with that file or with the progressive advance of the case, could come back and give the demander the requisite information, it would save much anxiety and an enormous amount of utterly unnecessary telephoning and would not interfere with the progress of the machinery.

The other suggestion I make is this. We have heard stories of long queues of unhappy persons in the various capitals who are desiring to get out: hundreds and hundreds of people standing outside the British Consulates in Vienna, Berlin and so on. I wonder whether it would be possible to establish some sort of special refugee office in these Consulates, perhaps not at the Consulate itself, where, in a less dangerous position, people who are waiting for and demanding visas could be accommodated. Not only is the Aliens Department hopelessly overworked, but the Co-ordinating Committee is hopelessly overworked. I am told that such is the need for extra staff that applications put in to-day cannot be dealt with for some four or five weeks, or something like that; it varies from day to day.

I venture to think that another factor that might be dealt with is the simplification of procedure. The possibility might be considered of the issue of block visas, much on the lines on which the quota numbers of the United States are distributed among the various Consulates. For instance, ten German numbers may come to the United States Consul in Malta, which are never used but which are available for issue under the authority of the Consul if a German desiring to go to the United States goes to Malta. I hope there will not be a rush to Malta after this by people who want to get a quota number for the United States without a minute's delay! The only people who would benefit from that would be the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. At any rate, that is the position, and I think there might be some value in that suggestion.

We have got over a good deal of the delay in the children's scheme. The movement for the care of children from Germany is working very much more quickly, and they have a block system of dealing with children which is quite admirable. It needs to be developed. There is a suggestion that we need more temporary camps for these children. I am going to ask the noble Earl if he would consider the possibility of putting some of this work of camps into the hands of organisations like the Y.M.C.A., so that they would superintend small camps in various places and there would be no delay through lack of accommodation in bringing over the children, such as there is in Holland at the present moment. I think that all refugees might very well be considered as nominally in transit in this country; yet we should realise that from a certain number of refugees there are enormous advantages to this country in their permanent settlement—and, I hope, also for the refugees themselves. We have some interesting cases of research chemists, people who understand special processes, who would be of the utmost value in this country. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that the Home Secretary a few days ago told another place that, while it is true that we have 11,000 refugees from Germany, they have been instrumental in giving employment to 15,000 British workmen in new industries in this country established through their instrumentality. That seems to me to be a very valid reason for encouraging the permanent settlement of those who could in fact make their contribution to our difficult unemployment problem, and I hope that the noble Earl will have a word to say about that.

In this connection my last word will be on the question of the training of these young emigrants, so that some could possibly stay here but most of them could more quickly be settled in some other country. I want again to pay a tribute to the Home Office in this connection. In a recent case in which I was interested they at once instituted an inquiry and without delay gave their broad support to the bringing over of a certain school in Berlin, complete with instructors, machinery and so on, because they felt that this was a method of dealing with these younger refugees which would be satisfactory both to the refugees and to this country, and also a contribution to the needs of those who desired to come out. The funds which have been raised for the purpose of this immediate help demand our generosity. We feel a tremendous gratitude to Earl Baldwin for leading in his great appeal. We can never forget the enormous generosity of the Jewish organisations, who have thrown up countless millions towards this terrible task, and we owe a great debt of gratitude, if I may say so, to the Archbishop, who has given so much of his time, sympathy and influence to helping in these appeals.

Finally, my Lords, I want to touch upon the biggest aspect of all in this problem, and one upon which I hope that the noble Earl will give us some hope. That is the eventual settlement of these refugees. The long-term solution involves the finding of a place where large numbers can settle in some other country. It was suggested by the Prime Minister that this must be undertaken by the voluntary organisations, but I am going to submit that it is too big a task altogether for the voluntary organisations, and I do hope that the Government will reconsider the possibility of giving some aid to this work. I am perfectly certain that the national conscience in this country would support the Government if they are able to give a much more direct aid to this work of helping in solving eventually the main problem. I would suggest that there might be a Government grant towards the cost of these services. I would suggest that the Government might very well consider, through the Inter-Departmental Committee, either a loan or a guarantee internationally of some sort of issue in the form of a loan, for the work of large-scale settlement. I think I may say that there has been a change of public opinion from the point of view of the Evian Conference that we should settle on a small scale by infiltration. I think the change has been towards supporting, if possible, mass settlement in one or possibly two main areas in the world. I think it was felt that the infiltration solution tended to arouse racial difficulties, and that mass settlement, if a suitable area can be found, and I hope it can, would be better.

Where then are they to go? Here I want to ask the Government if they will be just a little more direct in the consideration of various suggestions. Of course we know that the Government have nothing whatever to do with the British Dominions. At the same time we have just this much to do with them, that we have a common defence machinery. If a Dominion by some action tends to encourage the possibility of attack, or to give an excuse for the possibilty of attack, for example, by taking no steps towards filling or helping to fill alleged open spaces by receiving refugees, then there might come a time when this would lead to some sort of military danger in which they would then request our help. In these circumstances, I think we have this much, that we might encourage the pos- sibility of some sort of large-scale settlement. Take, for example, the question of Western Australia, where large areas are completely uninhabited, and where I understand even the Government are in favour of the settlement of a million people, and nothing is being done because the Dominion Government has pronounced, broadly speaking, against the project. This is a matter of great delicacy, and one for consultation, but I think perhaps it is worth perhaps even a second letter on this subject, when communication is being made, to ask as to the possibilities of such a solution. We did make a suggestion as to Tanganyika, and I think it was a mistake, because it caused the maximum of irritation by reason of its being a former German Colony, and it is doubtful to what extent it can be used for anything like mass settlement.

Another suggestion was British Guiana, and it has caused a great amount of discussion. I am interested in the Report of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, on this subject. He visited British Guiana in 1922. He was not then Lord Halifax, but was of course known as Mr. E. Wood. His Report, which is of the utmost interest, is Command Paper No. 1679. In this Report he not only points out the tremendous possibility of British Guiana—and I am certain that nobody in this House would fail to feel sympathetic towards anything which Lord Halifax reports on so sympathetically—but he says that although it is as large as Great Britain it has a population less than that of Hertfordshire, and a cultivated area about one-fifth the size of Kent. Although that was in 1922, I may say that the climatic conditions and general development of British Guiana have not changed in the meantime. It is interesting that Lord Halifax in this Report suggested dividing the, Colony into two, leaving one portion under the existing Government and organising the remainder under a separate administration. That is just the possibility for some form of new, say, Jewish National Home—a separate administration with enormous advantages over anything we have had before. He reports that British Guiana is practically uninhabited. It seems to me to have advantages, when we consider the difficulties in Palestine at the present time.

The same sort of report was made by Lord Snell, then Mr. Snell, when he visited British Guiana in April, 1927, and it is quite extraordinary to read the favourable reports of that country by these various examiners. These Reports are available, and I think they are well worth consideration. There is the possibility, in view of the offer of Holland, that we may have a joint offer of land in British, French and Dutch Guiana, which would give three great countries behind such a scheme, and therefore enormously add to the possibility of building up a new National Home, with the advantage to us, I think, of finally becoming, partly at any rate, a British Dominion. I think that is worth considering. I do not want to go into other places because I think I have detained your Lordships a long time.

Finally, let me say that I think we have a great opportunity. It is not a Jewish problem at all, but a much bigger problem. It is an international problem, and one towards which there has been shown throughout the world a desire by almost all nations to make some contribution. I would like the British Empire to benefit by this big-scale settlement, and I believe it would be of very real benefit to this country. I think that if out of evil good can come it is possible that an attempt to find a common solution of this problem may do something towards uniting the democracies of the world. That might be an additional reason why we should give our utmost support to finding a solution. The Government have already done a very great deal, but, if I may respectfully say so, I think there is still a great deal more to be done. I beg to move.


My Lord, I am not going to make any speech on this vast and baffling problem. I have already had opportunities of doing so elsewhere, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reference to myself. I only wish to emphasize one aspect of the problem which presents itself to the voluntary organisations with which I am specially associated. I want in a few sentences to emphasize the urgency of providing space into which the refugees whom we are willing to receive may ultimately pass. We all know that is a question for Government action, and I very much trust that the noble Earl who will reply for the Government will be able to assure us that the Inter-Governmental Committee is very busy at the present time in facilitating the provision of places of permanent refuge, and that our own Government are still active in promoting investigations in parts of our own Dominions and Colonies. I particularly hope that, though the omens may not seem very favourable, something may be done even now to persuade the German State to be willing to allow those who leave its borders to carry with them some means by which they can support themselves. I believe that such a permission would not only be of great assistance to those who wish to help the refugees, but would ease the international situation in a very real degree.

May I illustrate the pressure of this particular problem by two illustrations? The first is this. A great many people are very willing at this present time to receive into their houses refugees—not only children but adults—but the question which they are beginning to ask with some apprehension is: "For how long shall we be responsible for keeping these good people in our houses and making ourselves responsible for them? If we had the prospect of a limited responsibility we would gladly undertake it, but we hesitate before we commit ourselves to a responsibility whose length we cannot determine." The second and perhaps more forcible illustration is that unless speedily there can be this outlet for the refugees whom we welcome, the funds which are at present being raised for their maintenance will very soon become exhausted. I think these sums are likely to be great. I think the heart of our people is really touched in this matter and that there will be a large response to Lord Baldwin's appeal. But I have been startled to-day to learn that at the present time—and the increase of refugees, as the noble Lord has pointed out, is likely to be great—at the present time in this country we are paying out £100,000 per week for our refugees. Now if that continues—for so I am credibly informed—the time will rapidly come when even the most generous funds provided for the maintenance of the refugees will be exhausted, without much money being available for the far more expensive and important task of enabling them to emigrate and to take their proper place in any settlement that may be provided for them. That has always been a very expensive thing, because it cannot be done without considerable expenditure per head.

Therefore I only wish to emphasize how necessary it is that while we are willing to bring in a considerable number of refugees, we must at the same time very zealously be addressing ourselves to the problem of how soon it may be possible to enable some of them to go out into a permanent refuge. If it be not so, I foresee the difficulty that the burden may become much heavier than it is possible for voluntary organisations to bear. The Government will have to step in, and it is conceivable that reaction may set in, which would be very undesirable. I therefore earnestly hope that the noble Earl will be able to assure us that there are good prospects that the Government, either by themselves or through the Inter-Governmental Committee, may be able to speed up the chances of a permanent settlement for as many refugees as possible.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain you for more than a few moments but I have one or two definite points that I wish to put in support of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Marley. It is of particular urgency, I am informed, that something shall be done to widen the bottle-necks that exist at the present moment. I am referring firstly to the Consulates abroad, where I am told that there are the most pitiful scenes of people waiting week after week throughout the bitterly cold central European winter; and not only the men, for very often the men are afraid to appear in person, and it is the delicate wives who spend these long hours day after day in what at present is almost the vain hope of getting the necessary permits. I do think that steps should be taken, if it is at all possible, at the earliest moment largely to increase the facilities at those Consulates, so that that bottleneck at any rate may be to some extent widened.

Then, too, in confirmation of what my noble friend has said, I am told that the voluntary organisations in this country are overwhelmed with the amount of work that they have to do, and that the funds at their disposal are not sufficient for them to engage the staff which would deal competently and quickly with the problems which arise. I wonder whether it is not possible for the Government to provide some assistance, either monetary or in skilled staff, to see that there is no further unnecessary delay here. Because, indeed, the delay in itself means tragedy. It was put to me only this morning that if we are not very quick about it those whom we shall be importing into this country will not be refugees but criminals, paupers, and lunatics, who have been driven to this condition by the neglect which I am sure is not wilful on our part. Then, too, I want to urge that there should if possible be some relaxation in the regulations here. I am aware that everybody wishes to administer them in the most humane manner, but if I am rightly informed it is rather hard that there should be an insistence on emigration within a period of no longer than eighteen months, no matter whether an individual in this country is prepared to make himself responsible for life for the maintenance of the immigrants in this country. Surely we might relax that regulation a little bit. I also want to suggest that it should not be too closely insisted that these refugees in this country should do no work while they are here. I am aware that this is a controversial question, but it cannot be really necessary to insist that they should not even do voluntary work. That must be bad for the unfortunate refugee. These refugees cannot be said to be taking the jobs of some hundreds of thousands of unemployed in this country.

That brings me to the further point that we should not be too rigid in refusing to accept these refugees as permanent settlers in this country. I am informed that a large number of them are very skilled in their own trades, which do not exist in this country—such trades as the Bohemian glass industry, Czecho-Slovakian china, and fancy goods from Austria—all of which have been carried on by these skilled refugees who, if they cannot bring with them their capital, or even their special machinery, at least bring with them the goodwill of the business, for a large number of these industries made goods for the export trade. If the proprietor of such a business, the deportee from Austria or Germany, can come over to this country, I am satisfied that capital will be available for him to set up his industry here, and his knowledge and the goodwill of that business ought to be sufficient to bring substantial profit to this country.

Lord Marley has pointed to other cases of giving employment to British working men. I am of opinion that the matter is very well worth investigation from the point of view of whether some of these specific industries could not be set up in some of our depressed areas with even greater prospects of success than some of the industries which have been artificially imported into them within the last few months. But that is not what I really rose to suggest to your Lordships. What I wish primarily to do is to impress on the Government the need for speed in relaxing these regulations, which perhaps may have been necessary at the time, but which have proved to be rather hard in actual working. I appeal to the noble Earl who is going to reply to look into the question and see whether some relaxation is not possible.


My Lords, with regard to the observation which fell from the most reverend Primate as to the expense of maintaining refugees in this country, he has been very much misinformed as to the amount required.


Since I spoke I have been informed that the sum I mentioned refers to money which is also being spent in Germany for the benefit of refugees there.


If it includes Germany and Vienna and other places where the refugees are, then I should say that might be correct. In this country it is far less than that. At the same time the charge is an exceedingly heavy one here, and together with all the other expenses that fall upon the voluntary organisations, especially for training and immigration, which is their main purpose, the funds at their disposal are far less than the urgent needs.


My Lords, the question we have been discussing this afternoon is one which has so many different aspects, and so many points have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, the most reverend Primate, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that I feel sure the House will forgive me if I am unable to reply to all the numerous questions which have been put to me. But I can assure your Lordships that the whole of the speeches made during the course of this debate will be most carefully read, and will be given the most careful attention by the Ministers and Departments concerned. I should like to say that His Majesty's Government welcome and are glad to have the opportunity of further explaining what their policy is in regard to this general problem. The exceptional and intensive character of recent action taken in Germany has, very naturally, deeply stirred British sympathy, and it has rendered this problem, potentially at any rate, as the noble Lord pointed out, if not actually at the moment, more overwhelming than anything we have yet experienced. I want to assure the House that the Government are fully conscious of the urgency of the whole situation and the need for speed. They are desirous, and are doing everything they can, to solve the difficulty with which we are confronted with the greatest possible expedition.

Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Marley, pointed out, this is by no means a new problem. It is not a problem that is confined to Germany or to any particular country. It is a world-wide problem, and one that must in my view be dealt with and solved by international co-operation. It has been with us, as we all know, recurrently ever since the War, and it is due to a number of causes which it is not necessary for me to go into of a political and economic nature. After the War we first of all had the difficulty which arose in connection with the Armenian and the Russian refugees. At that time these difficulties were dealt with to a certain extent administratively both here and in France, and possibly in other countries, but it was very soon found that international effort was absolutely necessary. In 1921, as your Lordships know, the Nansen Office was set up by the League, and that Office has continued to do everything possible for the benefit of these particular refugees. In 1933 the German problem was raised in an acute form, and the League once again took the question up and a "High Commissioner for refugees coming from Germany" was appointed and has functioned since then. It was feared by a number of people that the activities of these two organizations might cease at the end of this year, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Marley, has told your Lordships, at the Assembly of the League last September it was decided to merge the work of these two organisations into one single organisation, and, as he also told your Lordships, Sir Herbert Emerson has been appointed as the new High Commissioner and will enter on his functions on January 1 next.

These organisations only dealt with those refugees who had already been established outside their own countries, but it had become, even a considerable time ago, abundantly clear that international effort was absolutely essential in order to organise involuntary emigration from Germany, which had already reached large proportions at the beginning of this year. As the result of American initiative, the Evian Conference took place, and following upon that the London Inter-Governmental Committee was set up. My noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is Chairman of that Committee, and the executive authority is really vested in the Director, Mr. George Rublee, a distinguished American lawyer who has undertaken this task. The task with which he has been entrusted is really of a two-fold kind, as the noble Lord pointed out. Firstly, it is to improve as far as possible the present conditions of exodus from the country of origin of those refugees, and to replace them by an orderly method of emigration. The second part of his task is to make contact with the Governments of the countries of likely refuge or settlement in order to develop as far as possible permanent opportunities for that settlement.

The first part of his task has been very greatly complicated by political, economic, and financial difficulties, and through no fault of the Director or Committee it has unfortunately not yet been possible to make any great progress, but it is only right that I should point out and emphasize the fact, which I know your Lordships appreciate, that progress in this direction depends to a very large extent indeed on the attitude of the country of origin. And the reasons for this are perfectly obvious. Other countries, particularly those countries which are suffering under the burden of unemployment, are naturally reluctant to receive, in large numbers, emigrants from other countries who have no visible means of subsistence, and consequently the success of the second part of the task with which the Director of the Committee is entrusted must depend very largely on the success of his negotiations with the country of origin.

The noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred to the visit to London of Dr. Schacht, and asked me if I could give him any information with regard to that. I regret that I am not in a position to give him any information on the subject. I can merely say that the Committee is still working and hoping to make that contact which is necessary in order to try and lighten the difficulties of this extremely difficult question. Nevertheless, a lot of extremely useful work has already been done by that Committee, particularly in regard to its approach to the country of settlement. But my noble friend the Chairman of the Committee and the Director are working together extremely closely, and they, and the Committee also, are examining every possible outlet with a view to passing the results of their examination on to the Governments of the countries concerned. Furthermore, every effort is being made to focus the attention of the Governments who were present at the Evian Conference not only upon the importance but the extreme vital urgency of the problem. The results have been by no means negligible and in particular there has been an encouraging response from a number of the Latin-American countries. I feel that it is only right that I should take this opportunity of expressing our feeling that the Director is to be very warmly congratulated on what he has been able to do in the face of great and most disheartening difficulties.

May I say a word or two in regard to the share which His Majesty's Government have taken in efforts up to the present time? That is best explained, I think, in the statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made in another place on November 21. May I remind your Lordships of the main features of that statement? He first of all pointed out that since 1933—I think the noble Lord mentioned this—the United Kingdom had permitted 11,000 men, women and children to land in this country. This was in addition to 4,000 or 5,000 others who had landed since that time and emigrated to other countries. He went on to explain that the activities of His Majesty's Government were chiefly directed to extending to the utmost the capacity of the voluntary organisations to provide for the refugees. There was constant consultation with the Co-ordinating Committee and the co-operation is as close as it can possibly be in the circumstances. Following on this consultation it has been possible to arrange for the admission of certain categories of emigrants in considerable numbers without encroaching upon the labour market, such as nurses and domestic servants, and, furthermore, special facilities are being provided for refugees to be retrained, particularly in agriculture.

There is a further word I should like to say in regard to this matter later on, but undoubtedly the most important category to be helped is the category of the children. As your Lordships know, the Home Secretary stated in another place that His Majesty's Government were prepared to provide facilities for all children whose maintenance could be guaranteed by voluntary organisations or individuals. There has been an extremely generous response to the appeals for assistance for this object, and upwards of a thousand children have already been admitted into this country, or are on their way having been authorised to come here, and the Government expect that many thousands of children will finally be admitted in this way.

Then, in his statement, the Prime Minister referred at considerable length to the possibilities of settlement in the Colonial Empire. I do not think that it is necessary for me this evening to recapitulate what he said on that occasion. All the Colonial Governors were approached on this subject, and I should like to say just one word about the position in regard to British Guiana, because the noble Lord opposite specifically referred to it during the course of his speech. When the Prime Minister made his statement he said that he was not quite certain of the total area that might be available for this type of settlement, but that he thought it was within the region of something like 10,000 square miles. I am informed that as a matter of fact the area is considerably larger than that, and is something like 40,000 square miles. I readily admit that much of this country is forest land and may not be suitable for this type of settlement, but at any rate there is in British Guiana this very large area which is undoubtedly worthy of examination and investigation with a view to possible settlement on a considerable scale in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Marley, made a short reference to what had been done by other Governments as a contribution to the solution to this problem. I do not want to make invidious comparisons, but the noble Lord referred to what was being done by the United States Government, and I should like to say that we very readily and gladly recognise the great efforts that they are making in trying to solve our difficulties. We are all extremely grateful for the close personal interest which President Roosevelt is taking in this subject. I also would like to pay my meed of tribute to the French Government, to whom the noble Lord also alluded. They are maintaining the tradition which has been established there of a really generous policy towards refugees. I understand that already they have some 250,000 refugees of different nationalities, and in the circumstances I do not think we can expect that they can do very much more, but I am informed that they are still always ready to admit those who are in immediate danger. I should like to mention one other country, and that is Holland, because I think that in proportion to its size and population it has made as great a contribution as any other country in assisting to get over our difficulties. I understand that 25,000 refugees have entered Holland since 1933, and it was recently announced that refugees were now entering at the rate of 1,000 per week.

The noble Lord has referred to the Dominion Governments. He knows that they are giving urgent attention to this matter. Your Lordships, however, know quite well that the Dominion Governments alone can speak of what they are doing or are prepared to do in regard to this problem in general, and I really do not feel that I can say anything further than that at the moment. I only wish to refer to the fact that the Australian Government have undertaken to receive 15,000 refugees spread over a period of three years.

I should like to say a word about refugees from Czecho-Slovakia. Of course the recent crisis there has thrown a very great additional burden upon the shoulders of those people who are concerned with this problem. There are a large number of refugees. At present I think the majority are either self-supporting or are being housed and looked after by friends, but there are still a considerable number of refugees in camp who are being cared for by the Czech Government with the assistance of such funds as the Lord Mayor's Fund. As your Lordships know, the Czech Government have recently set up an Institute for the care of refugees and for organising their settlement and emigration abroad. In the work of this Institute there is no discrimination on grounds of nationality, religion or race. I am glad to say that it is understood that arrangements have been made by the Czech Government to enable emigrants to take a certain proportion at any rate of their capital out of the country. I might add that the Chairman of the Inter-Governmental Committee and the Director are proposing that involuntary Sudeten German emigrants from Sudeten areas, in view of the fact that they really are in the same position as involuntary emigrants from Germany, should be brought within the scope of the Committee's work. That has not been finally settled but we very much hope that it will be accepted.

As to the action of His Majesty's Government your Lordships know that they authorised the temporary admission of 350 refugees from Czecho-Slovakia on undertakings, which were forthcoming, that they would be maintained if necessary during their stay in the United Kingdom. Subsequently the Government authorised admission under the same conditions of the families of those 350 refugees to whom visas had been granted. I am informed that the number of those authorised to enter the country is over 1,200, and that a considerable number of applications are still under consideration. I should like to point out that the fixing of the figure at 350 was an exceptional measure. It did not mean that that was the limit to the number of those whom His Majesty's Government were prepared to admit, and I can tell your Lordships that His Majesty's Government will consider sympathetically further applications and will authorise admission on receiving assurances that these applicants will not become a charge on the public funds or displace British labour. I would like to say in regard to the advance of £10,000,000 to the Czecho-Slovak Government which His Majesty's Government have made, that the Czech Government have placed a substantial proportion at the disposal of the Institute for the care of refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred to the question of the unfortunate refugees who are stranded now between Germany and Poland. I am afraid that there is nothing very much that I am able to say in regard to that. His Majesty's Government feel that it is not a matter with which they can cope alone. All I can say at the moment is that this question is going to be considered by the Inter-Governmental Committee.

Various questions in connection with co-operation between the Government and the Co-ordinating Committee have been raised during the course of the debate. I can assure your Lordships that this co-operation between the Government and the Co-ordinating Committee, as representing voluntary organisations, is of the closest possible kind. It is constant and it goes on not merely day by day but almost hour by hour. As a result of this co-operation it has been possible to avoid the submission of individual cases, and permission to enter the country has now been arranged by means of block grants to parties of children, domestic servants and nurses. Comment has been made on the fact that the staff dealing with this problem in the Aliens Department is not sufficiently large. I can only say that the staff is being expanded as rapidly as circumstances allow. In the last three weeks there has been an increase of personnel of twenty-eight, of whom nine are experienced officers. The noble Lord has made a number of suggestions with regard to the possible way of increasing those staffs. He has also raised the question of the possibility of getting such organisations as the Young Men's Christian Association to organise camps for children, and so on, throughout the country. I am net really competent to deal with these subjects at this time, but I can assure your Lordships that all reasonable suggestions that are made this afternoon will undoubtedly not escape the attention of those who are chiefly concerned with these questions

I should like to say a word or two about the question of what are known as transit refugees. I am able to say that a scheme has been worked out in consultation with one of the principal voluntary organisations whereby refugees to be admitted to this country until they can proceed overseas will be able to obtain a visa from the appropriate passport control officer upon presentation of a serially-numbered form, which will be authenticated by a stamp affixed in the Aliens Department. This will undoubtedly simplify the whole process and, I hope, save time and to a considerable extent avoid the delay in regard to which we have had so many complaints. In addition to the persons who are likely to leave the country shortly for overseas, we contemplate that a number of younger men and women, possibly between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, will be admitted under this arrangement for the purpose of being retrained either in industry or in agriculture.

Another matter about which I must say a word—and it has been raised by, I think, two speakers this evening—is that of the difficulties of financing these activities. The House will remember that it was laid down on the initiative of the United States Government at Evian that the cost of the maintenance of refugees was not to fall upon the Governments concerned, and it is on that basis that the Committee—the Inter-Governmental Committee—I think has been approaching its task and carrying on its work. I might say in this connection that the appeal of the voluntary organisations for assistance has met with a wonderful response from private resources and private charity. But I fully appreciate the aspect of the question which was emphasized by the most reverend Primate: that unless in a comparatively short time we are able to devise means of settling these people permanently abroad in some place or other, the funds of these organisations must eventually, and perhaps rather sooner than we care to think, become exhausted. His Majesty's Government are fully conscious of the importance of that aspect of this subject, though I fear that I am not in a position to say anything definite about it to-day.

The noble Lord opposite has raised a wider question, having in mind the difficulties of long-term settlement of these refugees, and that is the possibility of Government loans. We should try to deal with the position by Government-guaranteed loans: I think that is what he suggested. Once again, I fear I am not in a position to say anything definite to your Lordships. I can only say that, for the present, private funds must bear the whole cost of these activities, and the next step must obviously be the examination of settlement schemes by Jewish bodies, a step for which His Majesty's Government are prepared to give every possible facility. It is really only at a later stage, when the probable cost of these things can be estimated, that any question of a loan can become a practical proposition. When and if it does become a practical proposition, of course it will depend upon the attitude of the Governments as a whole who are concerned in this matter. I fear I am not in a position to say anything more definite in regard to this question this evening.

I have tried to show during the course of my remarks that in all these various efforts and activities His Majesty's Government have taken their share and, indeed, more than their share in helping. Criticism of what His Majesty's Government have done is inevitable and to be expected, and is of various kinds. It is often said abroad, and particularly in Germany, that we are intervening in what, after all, are that country's domestic affairs. This seems to be a most extraordinary and entirely untenable point of view. The facts are that the pressure exercised on large sections of the German population inevitably produce an outflow from that country, and large numbers of people manage to get out, authorised or not. This places upon neighbouring countries, and indeed upon far-distant countries too, a very heavy burden and responsibility. This question is therefore of very great concern to those countries, both from the humanitarian and from the social aspects. It is clear that they cannot ignore this question; they have to take it up. That is quite obviously what the countries concerned intend to do.

On the other hand, there are those who consider that voluntary efforts to deal with this question are not sufficient and that His Majesty's Government ought perhaps directly to organise and finance the immigration of refugees. To a large extent I certainly sympathise with that point of view, but I wonder whether people fully realise the vastness and the magnitude of the problem, and the consequences for a country such as this, with a very large number of unemployed, of the introduction into it of a considerable population with inferior standards of life to those which obtain in this country. Of course the capacity to absorb refugees from other countries depends almost entirely upon the type of person in question. It is quite clear that those who have a certain amount of capital and means of subsistence, or who are to be absorbed in occupations as a result of which they would not displace British labour, can be dealt with much more easily than others, but I think every one will agree that we cannot throw our gates wide open, finance refugees, and allow limitless immigration into this country. That, I think, is entirely out of the question. We feel that the solution for these difficulties must be sought by carefully-planned international policy, and by carefully-planned international action.

Let me repeat once more that it is reasonable to hope and expect that Germany, from which country this problem emanates in this instance, should assist in overcoming the first great obstacle, and that is the lack of financial means of the great majority of refugees. In this country we have imposed, as your Lordships know, no quota on the number of refugees, and we are interpreting the immigration regulations very widely, for humanitarian reasons. I can only say in conclusion that although we feel it is impossible to ask the taxpayers in this country, in the present circumstances, to shoulder what would be tremendous additional burdens, I can assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government will make every effort themselves, and will sympathetically consider all representations and suggestions which are calculated to contribute towards the solution of this grave problem.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for the character of his reply, and there are a good many points, naturally, in which I find myself in agreement with him and for which I am grateful. I fear I failed to make myself understood in connection with the suggestion that I apparently proposed introducing a large number of people into this country. I think the words were "limitless immigration of inferior standards of living." I expressly said that I considered this country was a country of transit, and that I was not in favour of settlement, and I am sorry that I was misunderstood in that connection. That must clearly apply to an industrial country with a large volume of unemployment. It can only be special types of settlers who can be permanently accommodated here, those who are skilled in processes and those who are equipped from a scientific point of view.


May I interrupt to say that I never really suggested that it was the view of the noble Lord himself; but I said there were a considerable number of people who thought that the possibilities were very much greater than they actually are.


I am very much obliged to the noble Earl. I am sorry I misunderstood him, and I would like to identify myself with him in that respect, that this can only be a place for persons of a certain type, and not for the agricultural hordes of Eastern Europe. There is one other point on which, perhaps, I misunderstood the noble Earl. I did say, and I do know, that there has been the greatest co-operation between the Home Office and the Co-ordinating Committee, and I hope I was not understood as suggesting that there was not. What I did try to suggest was that it needed strengthening, so that each link of the chain would be able to bear its own allotted strain. As to what the noble Earl said with regard to visas for transit refugees, I could not follow what he said, but I shall read it with very great interest in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, and he will forgive me if I suggest that one of the Papers which I think he might lay would be some sort of explanation for those who are constantly receiving inquiries in that connection.

Another Paper which I would suggest is a simple explanatory leaflet which members of Parliament would be able to send to those who apply to them for assistance or advice. It should be some simple explanatory leaflet, which would explain the position to-day, the necessity for arrangements for settlement, and the point raised by Lord Rea with regard to labour permits. Of course if people have not got labour permits they cannot work here, but many hundreds and possibly thousands have permits, and if there was some sort of explanatory leaflet on how to get them, it would save myself and others the burden of writing long letters to people who do not know the most elementary forms of making their applications. I was most interested with regard to what the noble Earl said as to the hope—I will not put it higher—of the possibility of some sort of joint Governmental action. I am not fastening on to him any promise, but he suggested the possibility or hope that there might be some international action in connection with financial assistance, and that I thought was of value, if it materialises.

Finally, I would like to say this; that as regards the suggestion as to the process workers, I am afraid that Canada has already jumped in on the claim for the porcelain and glass workers of Czecho-Slovakia. I understand that there is under discussion an agreement with Canada whereby 4,000 will settle there and open glass works, such as those for which Czecho-Slovakia has been famous. I am glad it is within the Empire, and I hope that the agreement will materialise. In connection with the work of the Inter-Governmental Committee I would like to join in the tribute which the noble Earl paid to the work of M. Rublee, who has had a gigantic task and has had to face almost intolerable affront. I noticed the noble Earl was rather careful in speaking of the work of the Inter-Governmental Committee. He said, I believe, that every effort has been made to explore every avenue; and he did tell us that the results were by no means negligible. We have heard that, I am afraid, very often, and I do not think it helps us very much.

Nevertheless there were two points that I welcome. One was the possibility of the Sudeten Germans coming under the Inter-Governmental Committee, and the other was the possibility of these unhappy German Poles having their case considered by that Committee. If consideration by the Committee were all it would not be very much, and if the Committee did no more than it has managed to do so far that would not be very helpful. But with the presence here of Mr. Taylor from the United States, and with the new energy which is being apparently administered into that Committee, one hopes it may be more successful, especially in view of the visit which is taking place now, which I am led by the noble Earl to suppose, may, with the help of Governmental resources, have some useful results. If the noble Earl would consent to lay some papers on the two lines I suggested, the simple leaflet and the explanation of the new system of transit visas, I would at once withdraw my Motion.


I do not want to give any undertaking, because I do not quite know. But I will inquire, and certainly, if it is feasible to do something of the kind, I will do it.


I am very much obliged, and I fully accept that. I think the noble Earl has shown great sympathy, and by the leave of the House I desire to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.