HL Deb 05 July 1939 vol 113 cc1011-68

4.2 p.m.

THE EARL OF LYTTON rose to call attention to the nature and magnitude of the refugee problem created by the political conditions in some countries and to the opportunities for its alleviation afforded by the economic needs of certain other countries; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have placed on the Order Paper the Motion that stands in my name in order to give me an opportunity of bringing to your Lordships' notice a human problem of great complexity arising out of the disturbed political conditions in many parts of Europe. There have been great tragedies from time to time in the history of the world, caused either by the convulsions of Nature or by human action, or by a combination of the two, but never has a single catastrophe created such a volume of human misery and suffering as that which is involved in the problem of either the actual or the potential refugees in Europe. There is no immediate solution of the problem, but I think if all the facts of it were generally known every country would wish to do whatever was possible in order to provide a remedy.

My first object in putting down this Motion is to remind your Lordships of the nature and magnitude of the problem in the hope that as the result of what may be said in your Lordships' House every possible remedy may be examined. At the outset let me mention the various voluntary organisations which have undertaken the task of relief, and some of which have supplied me with the facts that I am laying before your Lordships to-day. They are the Council for German Jewry, the German Jewish Aid Committee, the Christian Council for Refugees, the Catholic Committee, the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, the Arts and Letters Refugee Committee, the International Student Service, the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, the International Christian Committee for German Refugees, the International Solidarity Fund, the Save the Children Fund, the Armenian (Lord Mayor's) Fund, the German Emergency Committee of the Society of Friends, the British Committee for Refugees from Spain, the British Committee for Refugees from Czecho-Slovakia and, lastly, the Co-ordinating Committee for Refugees, on which most of those I have mentioned are represented. Lord Hailey is the Chairman of that Committee, and I had hoped that he would be present to-day to take part in this discussion. He would have been here had the debate taken place on the date originally fixed last week, but unfortunately the change of date was not convenient to Lord Hailey, and he is not able to be present to-day.

There are sixteen different organisations which are known to me, and there may, for all I know, be others. All these organisations are administering funds which have been subscribed by the charitable public for the relief of refugees, and they are trying, within the limits necessarily imposed upon all voluntary work, to bring relief to at least a fraction of the sufferers. These organisations are unanimous in wishing me to bring to the notice of the Government and Parliament the inadequacy of their combined efforts to alleviate more than a fraction of the numbers involved. They assure me that they have received every possible sympathy and help from the officials of the various Government Departments with which they have been brought in contact, and they also recognise gratefully the generosity with which the public has responded to the various appeals.

Your Lordships may perhaps not be aware of the number and variety of these appeals. May I mention some of them? The Baldwin Fund alone has produced £500,000; the Mansion House Fund, initiated by the late Lord Mayor, has exceeded £350,000, and many thousands of pounds have no doubt been raised also by other funds. The Council for German Jewry has raised, since 1933—they are quite a small Jewish community—no less a sum than £3,000,000, of which £700,000 was contributed during the period covered by the Baldwin Fund. Then £1,000,000 has been subscribed for sufferers from the Spanish war, either for the relief of refugees in this country or for the temporary accommodation of Basque children, or in fitting out food ships for Spain. Lastly, £184,000 has been raised for the Chinese victims of the war in the Far East. Altogether, in a few years, £5,000,000 has been raised through private charity in this country. And let me say what the representatives of these societies cannot say for themselves, how splendid has been the voluntary service which they have contributed. As a work of human charity what has been done and is being done for these unhappy refugees is indeed beyond all praise, but the problem far exceeds the scope of private charity or voluntary effort. My first object, therefore, is to give your Lordships some idea of the nature and the extent of this problem, because, if once that is understood, it will become apparent, I think, that the problem is far larger than can be dealt with by private charity.

This refugee problem is no new one. As a result of the War and of the settlement after the War, a large number of persons found themselves Stateless and without the means of providing themselves with identity papers. Many others had to be moved from one country to another. The work of providing for these people was undertaken and successfully carried through by the League of Nations, a work which will ever be honourably associated with Fridtjof Nansen; but just when it was thought that the refugee work of the League of Nations was completed and it was actually proposed to close down the Nansen Refugee Office at Geneva, a vast new refugee problem, far greater than had ever been known before, was created by the wholesale persecution of Jews in Central Europe—a persecution which began in Germany, then extended first to Austria and subsequently to Czecho-Slovakia. And it is not only those of the Jewish faith who have swelled this vast tide of human suffering. Thousands of Christians also have been included in this persecution. In the first place, the definition of "Jew" or "non-Aryan" includes persons of only partial Jewish descent perhaps with one Jewish grandparent or even with one Jewish great-grandparent. The persecution also pursues Communists, Social Democrats, even persons of mildly Liberal views. I myself, I have no doubt, would be a victim of such persecution if I lived in Germany. And so far as the persecution of Czechs in Czecho-Slovakia goes to-day, the Czech victims are persons whose only fault is that they have been loyal and patriotic citizens of Czecho-Slovakia. All these people are forced to choose between the probability of a living death in a concentration camp or exile from their country.

Each successive occupation by Germany of neighbouring States has done much more than merely extend the area of her oppressive laws, because those who were persecuted in Germany at the beginning of the Nazi régime, sought refuge in Austria and then later, when Austria was occupied by Nazi troops, they fled for safety to Czecho-Slovakia, where they were again overtaken after a few months. The number of such people who have succeeded in leaving the German Reich since 1933 is about 300,000. But their settlement is only a fraction of the real problem, because the most distressing feature of this whole matter is the condition of those who have not yet succeeded in escaping and whose piteous appeals are received in this country almost daily. In the territories now under the German Reich there are still some 850,000 Jews and, of course, a very large number of non-Aryan Christians who may be ultimately forced out of their respective countries and whose present condition, even before that happens, is one of the greatest possible destitution and insecurity.

But that is not all. In Hungary there are about 500,000 Jews already subject to rigorous anti-Semitic laws and threatened with probable exile in the near future. In Poland the Jews number 3,000,000, or 10 per cent. of the whole population. Although there has been a Jewish community in Poland since the twelfth century, the Poles to-day are showing an inclination to follow the German example, and they sometimes complain that whereas great efforts have been made in other countries to receive the Jewish victims of German persecution, no such efforts are being made to receive the Jews from Poland, who, up to now, have been treated with far greater humanity. In Rumania also there is a Jewish population of 1,000,000 which constitutes a very real problem and increases the tension in Eastern Europe.

I do not suggest, of course, that all the Jews in Poland or Rumania or Hungary must necessarily be included in the number of those for whom some refuge in another country must be found. What I do mean is that a proportion of such people must be included, and the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Central Europe recently has made for these people a position of great insecurity and anxiety. In addition to those from Central Europe, 420,000 Russian and Armenian refugees under the protection of the League of Nations have still to be settled. Lastly, there are the victims of the Spanish Civil War. I am told that the number of Spanish refugees in France at the present moment is 300,000. Even those who are willing and able to return to Spain cannot do so more rapidly than at the rate of 6,000 a month, and, of course, there are many who will never be able to go back to Spain at all and for whom some permanent home must be found elsewhere. It has been estimated that some of those might go to Mexico and the Mexican Government have offered to take about 25,000 to 30,000. Transport has to be found for those people. The British Committee for Refugees from Spain have arranged transport to Mexico for 1,800 Spanish refugees at a cost of £25,000. It is obvious that private charity cannot provide transport for all of them.

Such, my Lords, is the nature, such is the magnitude of this refugee problem. I hope I have said enough to show that it is quite beyond the scope of private charity; but let me hasten to add that I am not suggesting for a moment that all these unfortunate people can be accommodated in lands under British control or that they should become a charge upon British taxpayers. If such an idea were to get about, it would, I am afraid, turn what is now a very genuine feeling of sympathy into one of great anxiety and possibly actual hostility. I will deal in a moment with the machinery required to deal with a problem of this sort, but first let me correct another impression which I think is very prevalent. It must not be assumed that all these people, whose condition at the moment is so piteous and whose future is so hopeless, are in themselves helpless or inefficient, and that their transfer into other countries must necessarily mean a burden upon the country which receives them. That is far from the case. Many of these people are of high technical skill and great educational attainments. They are well able, if allowed, to render real service to the countries in which they settle in return for any help which they may receive. Even those who have the least to give can do something, because, after all, they have to be housed, fed, clothed and warmed, and the provision of housing and food and clothing and fuel will bring employment to the persons who supply these things.

It is a complete fallacy to suppose that every foreigner who obtains employment in this country necessarily deprives a British workman of employment. All the economists who have written on this subject—I believe without a single exception—have agreed that that is not the case. The whole of our past history confirms the views of these writers. I am sorry that the noble Lord who leads the Opposition in this House is not here to-day, because he, too, has written on this subject, and I am sure he would bear me out in my contention that it is quite fallacious to suppose that a job given to a foreigner is necessarily taken away from an Englishman. Moreover, we have official confirmation of this view, because in December last the Home Secretary stated in the House of Commons that 11,000 refugees had been settled in this country and as a result about 15,000 British workers had been employed who otherwise would not have been employed. Sir John Hope Simpson, writing on this point at a somewhat later date, puts the number rather higher and states that 20,000 British workmen have received employment as a result of German immigration.

When I was speaking of the philanthropic aspect of this question, I gave certain facts and figures to show that the private organisations and the charitable public had responded with zeal and generosity to the appeals made to them. I contended that the problem was not merely a philanthropic one; but if we were to compare what this country as a whole has done with what other countries as a whole have done, it would appear that their contribution had been very much greater than ours—not only large countries like France but also small countries like Holland and Belgium. The noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, gave the figures in this House last December when he stated that the number of refugees in France was 250,000; and of course many more have been received from Spain since then. He stated that Holland had received 25,000 compared with our 11,000. I think it is time that, in accordance with our traditional policy, this country should make a greater contribution to the solution of this problem because it has always been a tradition of this country to welcome on our shores the political refugees from other parts of the world. Our industries have materially benefited in the past from these successive immigrations, and they may very well do so again in the future.

That brings me to the second part of the Motion which I have placed on the Order Paper. I am anxious to present this problem to your Lordships as one of opportunity rather than as a hopeless problem of human misery. There are in the world to-day many tracts of country which are under-populated and the economic resources of which need capital and labour for their development. Countries capable of such development within the British Empire are Australia, New Zealand, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, British Guiana and British Honduras. Outside the British Empire there are many South American Republics: Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay. There are also Portuguese East Africa and parts of Angola. Of course, I may be wrong about one or two of these, and there may be others that I have not mentioned, but those are the countries which have been mentioned in this connection by those who have spoken and written on the subject—countries which are under-populated and under-developed and which need capital and labour for their development. Some of them are at this moment actually seeking for loans and have notified their intention and willingness to receive immigrants if the immigration can be financed.

The problem, therefore, is to find some means of relating the needs of the individual refugees with the economic needs of the countries that are under-developed and might be willing to receive them. It is impossible, when speaking of countries that might benefit from a large immigration, not to mention Palestine, a country which was offered to the Jews in which to build their National Home, the country where they have so conspicuously demonstrated their capacity for successful settlement, the land to which those now being persecuted in Europe look most longingly, and which I am confident, if they were allowed, they could with their capital and labour in a very few years make the most prosperous country in the world. This is not the occasion to revive the unhappy controversy which was aroused by the White Paper of the Government, but I think it is relevant to the matter that we are discussing to-day to say that the moment chosen for the reversal of policy foreshadowed in that White Paper has accentuated the cruelty of the announcement contained in it.

So much for the possible areas of reception; I come now to the question of machinery. The present plight of those who are unwanted in their present surroundings must, of course, be the first consideration. It is quite impossible for these unhappy people to wait for the ten or twenty years which might be required before some of the larger schemes of development could be completed. I fear they would be dead long before that period was up. But if only one or two of these large schemes could be examined and decided upon quickly, and if financial provision could be made for them, then it would not be necessary for those who may ultimately be destined to occupy them to wait until the schemes were completed, because then their temporary accommodation in first countries of refuge would become a simple matter. They would probably have to be accommodated in camps, because from all the inquiries I have made I think the accommodation available for them in private property is practically exhausted to-day. The conditions in a refugee camp might not be entirely comfortable, but I am quite sure that most of these people would much prefer living in a refugee camp in this country to living in a concentration camp in Germany. It is only when there is no prospect of an ultimate destination that the questions of transport and temporary accommodation present insoluble problems, and of course, as I have already said, the numbers involved are far too great for individual case treatment.

The problem, thus stated, is clearly not only beyond the capacity of voluntary organisation in this country, but also beyond the scope of any one country alone. In other words, it is an international problem and requires an international agency to deal with it. Surely here is a task for the League of Nations, which on its humanitarian side has already done such admirable work, and which has acquired so much experience in dealing with this very subject of refugees. I cannot help thinking that the Inter-Governmental Committee which was established as a result of the Evian Conference, and which took the work out of the hands of the League of Nations, was a mistake. It was a mistake not because the participation of Governments was not necessary—it is obvious that the decisions of Governments are required before anything can be done—but because the representatives of Government are not the best people to do this kind of work in the first instance. In my opinion it is essentially a work for experts, and what I would venture to suggest is that an international body of experts should be set up at once, with the duty of examining and recommending schemes of settlement, and then getting into touch with the various Governments and trying to arrange with them, and through their co-operation, the necessary means to enable schemes to be carried out.

That, I think, is the remedy needed for this problem which, as I have stated, is really an international one; but in the meanwhile the work of these voluntary organisations must go on, and there are some minor administrative changes which I think would help if they could be carried out. At the present time there are no fewer than six Government Departments concerned with the work of refugees—the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Home Office, the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Trade and the Board of Education—and I think it would greatly assist matters if all the refugee activities of these various Departments could be co-ordinated under one member of the Cabinet, whose duty it would be to assist voluntary organisations in their work in carrying out the policy of the Government as settled from time to time. If and when some change of policy was required it would be easier for such a Minister to present the case in its broadest aspect from a national and not a departmental point of view.

I have spoken of the necessity of an international organisation in providing schemes for the settlement of refugees in parts of the world that are at present undeveloped, but there is one aspect of this problem which particularly concerns this country. We have no undeveloped areas; we are not underpopulated; but we are in this country faced with a declining birthrate, and consequently a declining population, and those who have studied the question are somewhat alarmed at the figures which confront them. Professor Carr-Saunders, one of the leading authorities on this subject, has estimated that the population of this country will be reduced by one-half in the next hundred years. Is it not very foolish, with that decline in population, to insist on the repatriation of every refugee child introduced into this country for educational purposes, when it reaches the age of eighteen? After we have borne the expense of maintaining them, rearing them, and educating and training them, when at last they reach the stage when they are able to render some return for the money and service given to them, we are ordered to turn them out of the country, so that their contribution shall be given to others, and not to the country which has provided all the expense of training them. I feel that to insist upon that policy is really little short of madness.

My reason for suggesting that there should be closer co-ordination between Government Departments on this refugee problem, is the hope I have that as a result of that there would be wider appreciation of British interests, and that the whole subject would be treated not merely as one of charity, but as an opportunity of meeting some of our own needs. At the present time, although, as I have said, all the authorities on the subject are agreed that the immigration of foreign labour is not detrimental to British interests, although the Home Secretary has given figures in Parliament to prove that those authorities are correct, although the whole of our own history and experience confirms their opinion, yet the policy of the Government towards the refugees from abroad continues to be based on the very fallacy that the Home Secretary has helped to disprove.

The Government's policy, to-day, assumes that this foreign immigration is an evil, and tries to keep it within the narrowest possible limit. One Department states that these refugees must not be a charge on public funds and insists that there must be private resources behind each one, to provide for them during the whole period of their sojourn. Another Government Department insists that they must not take up employment in this country which could be taken by British workmen. A third Department declares that all the children admitted into and educated in this country must be repatriated at the age of eighteen. I cannot think that if there was a single Minister who looked upon this problem from a national point of view, he could possibly approve of all these regulations.

Let me sum up the case which I have tried to present. In Europe, to-day, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals whose condition is one of abject misery, and who are subjected to cruelties and persecution which would be punishable by the laws of this country if inflicted even upon an animal. The Government may perhaps reply to me that we are not responsible for their condition, that it is not we who have been persecuting them, and that we have neither the power nor the duty to provide for their escape. I hope that that is not the answer, not at least the only answer, that I shall receive, because if it is, it would mean that for these unhappy people death was the only possible release from their sufferings. Certain it is that private charity alone in this country can offer an alternative only to a very small proportion. If any effective remedy is to be found, it must be provided by Government action, and by the action of more than one Government. That is my first point.

My second point is this, that there are considerations of British interest, national self-interest, as well as considerations of humanity in support of the case which I am laying before your Lordships. These unhappy people, so miserable, so helpless in their present surroundings, are capable of rendering real service to countries which are undeveloped, under-populated, or faced with the danger of a declining population; and, as our country is included in the last category, for us this is a problem not merely of philanthropy but of opportunity which it is for us to take or to miss. And the co-operation of Governments which I am suggesting is not in sharing a burden, but in sharing a profitable investment. It may perhaps seem to some of your Lordships that this investment of which I speak is rather an unconventional one, and no doubt the Treasury would so regard it, but the purchase of Suez Canal shares was an unconventional investment, though one which we have never had cause to regret. And to see the profit in this investment in human lives requires insight, imagination, vision—qualities which are not associated with Departmental officials. What is required above all is a second Nansen, a man with vision, energy and the personality and force of character to bring about this co-operation among many countries, which is absolutely essential if this great problem is to be solved.

In conclusion, let me submit one final consideration to His Majesty's Government. They are anxious, I know, to bring about a general settlement of the friction and enmity which exist in Europe to-day. Their great efforts to make this country strong are combined, I am convinced, with a sincere desire to remove the causes of war, if possible. If and when such an opportunity should arise for general discussion of matters in dispute between various countries, and if they can create an atmosphere in which discussion may be fruitful, then I hope that they will demand, as an essential feature in this general settlement, a real contribution by the German Government to the solution of this great international problem which their present rulers have created. I beg to move.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, we have all listened with great sympathy and admiration to the singularly interesting, comprehensive, and constructive speech of the noble Earl. I do not propose to follow him into the larger issues of this vast and complicated problem which he has put before us. I only wish to emphasize, in a very few sentences, one particular point. It is the position of the refugees in our own country, for whom there seems to be no immediate prospect of emigration elsewhere. I imagine that the number of these refugees in our country at present is about 35,000, though I noticed that the noble Earl spoke of only about 11,000, but no doubt the Government are in possession of the full figures. We have heard from the noble Earl much about the very striking voluntary contributions which have been given for the aid of these refugees. We have heard again, with astonishment and admiration, of the splendid help which the Jewish community have given to the members of their own race. It is most satisfactory that the fund associated with the name of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, should have reached half a million, and I like to think that the Church of England in its own various dioceses within a few weeks raised £50,000.

But it is becoming increasingly plain that these resources are not in themselves adequate, and must very soon be exhausted, though I feel that the generosity of the Jewish community appears to be almost illimitable. Others may speak with fuller knowledge than I can, but I very much doubt whether the resources of certainly the Baldwin Fund, and similar funds which have been gathered around it, will suffice, with all their various agencies, to support the refugees who are dependent on them for much longer than this present year. I have been told that there is a suggestion that another appeal should be issued in the autumn. Your Lordships can judge how far in the present circumstances, which we all know only too well, there is the slightest chance of any large response to such a new appeal. In these circumstances it is becoming increasingly plain that it has not been enough to provide an inlet for these refugees: the urgent and immediate question is to provide an outlet.

There are only two courses, indeed, that seem to be open. The first is a fuller absorption of many of these refugees into our own country. There I quite agree with what has been said by the noble Earl. I am not speaking of the scholars and thinkers and artists who, to a large extent, have been able to take a place, and an honoured place, already in the life of our Universities and of our country. Nor am I speaking of the highly skilled technicians, whose value to our own English workmen has already been indicated by the noble Earl. I am thinking rather, first of all, of the children. I have every reason to believe that numbers of these children, particularly of the Czechs, are children of quite extraordinary intelligence and promise. I do not see at present that they have any future in their own country, but it would seem to be a thousand pities if these extremely clever and promising children, already most grateful for their temporary education in this country, should not be encouraged to stay to complete their education and training, and, finally, to take their positions in this country. I think that nothing but benefit could accrue from the absorption of a good many of these intelligent children.

Then, again, as the noble Earl pointed out, there are those, somewhat older, who are being trained in one way or another in agriculture and other industries, but who at present are under the necessity, when their training has advanced to some extent, and after they have reached the age of eighteen, to be repatriated elsewhere. Having regard to the need of work upon the land, for which many of them are now being trained, again I suggest that it is a short-sighted policy to insist upon their repatriation, and that there are multitudes of them who could very well be absorbed in this country. But that way out necessarily affects mainly the younger refugees. What about the bulk of the older refugees who are in our midst, and who are still entering this country? The offers of hospitality, which have been very generous, and the personal guarantees which have been given for their maintenance, cannot be continued indefinitely. I have heard from a great many of their perplexity to know how long they can fulfil these promises of hospitality and of support. My trouble, which I am most anxious that the Government should relieve, is to know what is to be the position of these older refugees when the resources of private charity inevitably fail, and when there is no provision for their emigration. We have given them a door of entry; what is now the immediate and pressing problem is to provide a door of exit.

When we look around—this is where I hope the Government will be able to give us some reassuring information—there does not seem to be any country, even any of those to which the noble Earl alluded, which is willing to help. I do not hear much of any of our own Colonies or Dominions who are willing to do more than accept a comparatively small infiltration. None of them seems to contemplate receiving any large-scale settlement. We heard at one time a great deal about British Guiana. I had myself occasion to investigate the possibilities of British Guiana for immigration in connection with another body of refugees, for whom this country had contracted great obligations and who, in the magnitude of the present problem, it seems will be entirely forgotten, not wholly to the credit of this country. I mean the Assyrian people. We made every investigation, assisted by experts, in British Guiana, and what has since transpired appeared then—namely, that the experts were divided and that in any case, even if a people not accustomed to a more or less tropical climate could settle there, their only chances of maintaining themselves involved an immense outlay of capital in the way of roads, communications, and the like. Unless the Government can give us more reassuring information I doubt whether we can regard British Guiana as an open door. I do not know what has been thought of the possibility of Rhodesia or other places, but at present it seems as if there were no doors open through which these people could pass into a more or less settled life.

I beg the Government, if possible, to tell us whether or not they are facing the possibility of great numbers of these refugees being left on our hands without the chance, which was held out to them, of being settled in another country. Their position in that case would be almost worse than when they came. They would still be destitute, dependent upon a failing charitable support, and with this addition to their hopelessness that the hopes that had been extended to them had failed. If the Government this afternoon can lift that burden of anxiety as to the immediate future which presses very heavily upon some of us, I should be most grateful.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure you will agree that this debate could hardly have opened more auspiciously than with the extraordinarily accurate and impartial survey of the facts of the refugee situation to which we listened from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I was extremely happy to hear after that the most reverend Primate supporting his plea for more rapid and effective action on the part of His Majesty's Government on behalf of refugees. Those of us who were concerned some years ago with the Assyrian problem will recollect with gratitude the constant preoccupation that the most reverend Primate has shown with the refugee situation in all parts of the world. There is a common assumption underlying this debate, which is shared by all those except perhaps the inhabitants of the countries from which refugees come, and that is that these refugees are a common responsibility of every civilised nation, and that each country has to play its part, according to its economic resources and according to its opportunities for offering temporary asylum or permanent refuge, in providing the means of life for these helpless and persecuted people.

The question surely that is before our minds first and foremost this afternoon, and is naturally one that confronts every member of the British Legislature is: Is this country really making its rightful contribution? Are we doing our share in the common effort to provide these victims of intolerance with a fresh start? Before answering this question I should like, if I may, to remind the House of some of the many incentives—they have been referred to already by the noble Earl but perhaps I can mention some which he omitted—that we have to be hospitable to refugees. As he put it, this is an opportunity and not a question of simple charity. At a time such as this, when exclusive nationalism and fanatical intolerance flourish in so many parts of the world, it is surely a privilege to show that we at least are not suffering from any relapse into tribal mentality and that we remain to-day, as we have always been in the past, tolerant of opinions that differ from our own and sensitive to sufferings and injustice outside the boundaries of this country and outside the boundaries of the British Commonwealth. We can show this most plainly by opening wider our own doors. It has often been said that the degree of real civilisation attained by a country—and this has not been said by merely one sex—can be measured by its attitude to women. Now that the struggle for women's rights is a thing of the past, and in most though by no means in all respects there is equality of status and opportunity as between the sexes, a more appropriate criterion at the present day would be the attitude of a country towards the homeless and unprotected refugee.

Besides—and this is a point I do not think was mentioned by the noble Earl —the average refugee is definitely not merely an economic but a spiritual or, to use the modern terminology, an ideological asset to his adopted country. He has been driven into exile just because he believes in democracy, in freedom of thought, of assembly, of speech, in following his own private conscience instead of obeying blindly the commands of an all-powerful State. If these ideas are, at bottom, what distinguish our social institutions from those of totalitarian dictatorships, then surely the men and women who cherish them in these days are worth protecting. It is a little curious to my mind that Governments seem always more concerned with refugees as producers and consumers of material goods than as gratuitous retailers of inexhaustible spiritual wealth. There is another reason—and again a reason to which the noble Earl did not refer, at any rate at any length, in the course of his speech—why we should take advantage of this lamentable situation. We cannot ignore that our Government and our country are partly, at any rate, responsible for the stream of refugees that has poured out in recent years from Germany, Austria, and Czecho-Slovakia. It was, after all, the Treaty of Versailles, so humiliating in its effects, that brought about that national inferiority complex without which the revolution of 1933 would not have occurred. And it is only too true that the multitudes who are fleeing and who have fled during the last six years from Germany with little more than the clothes they wear on their backs, are victims of the folly of the allied statesmen in the post-War years as well as objects of unmerited persecution by their own Government.

We have—and I think it is as well to remind ourselves of this—an even more immediate and direct responsibility for the Jewish, Austrian, German and Czech refugees from the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, because it was undoubtedly the Pact of Munich last September that handed Czecho-Slovakia over to Germany as the price of peace. I am not referring to the political merits of the case. I think that this debate has kept itself free from political controversy. I am merely asking your Lordships to envisage certain of the social consequences of this agreement. The Lord Mayor's Fund, and the considerable Government credit, only part of which has been used, were an acknowledgment, I think, of this responsibility, but I am sure your Lordships will agree that it cannot and will not be discharged until we have provided an asylum or support for a larger number of those for whom the new régime is intolerable.

I hope that these considerations, added to the more weighty considerations put forward by the noble Earl and by the most reverend Primate, may help to persuade the Government to adopt a more liberal policy towards refugees; for dissatisfaction with Government policy to-day towards refugees is by no means confined to Party politicians or even to eager humanitarians with warm hearts but woolly heads. I should like to quote, with your Lordships' permission, two passages from a book by Sir John Hope Simpson, to whom the noble Earl has already referred, and who is, of course, acknowledged as one of the greatest living experts on the refugee problem. He says, referring to the contribution made by our own country: Great Britain's record in the admission of refugees is not distinguished if it were compared with that of France, Czecho-Slovakia or the United States of America. The strictly enforced, restrictive and selective policy of immigration which she has pursued since the War—particularly the emphasis placed on the admission of aliens only with economic resources adequate to their re-establishment—has kept the number of admissions to figures that have little significance in the total numbers of post-War refugees. Again he goes on to say, after referring to financial contributions given by the British Government towards the relief of refugees outside this country: It is doubtful, however, if this international work"— to which he rightly pays tribute— largely personal and periodic, is a sufficient contribution when measured by the standard of those made by other countries. Owing to the excessively cautious post-War immigration policy, Great Britain had ceased to be a country of asylum on a large scale. Her initiative and role in international work would be greatly strengthened if she could show a braver record as a country of sanctuary. The number of the refugees whom we have allowed to come to this country—the figures have already been given by the noble Earl, but I venture to repeat them because I think they are more eloquent than any words—has been estimated at not more than 25,000 which is approximately the figure for the refugee population in Holland. It has also been calculated—and I do not think the noble Earl mentioned this—that with our much larger population, if we had been as hospitable as our little neighbour across the Channel, we should have given shelter to approximately 138,000, or more than five times the number of those who have actually found their way to our shores. To me it is deeply disappointing, and I think this disappointment will be shared by other speakers, that a magnificent tradition of hospitality to exiled aliens, which made this country the principal haven for fugitives from autocratic Governments in the nineteenth century, should be abandoned at a time when the refugee problem is more acute and more difficult of solution than it has ever been before.

I submit, and in this submission I think I shall have the support of both the previous speakers, that this problem is too immense and too complex to be capable of solution by the generosity of philanthropic individuals and organisations. The number of refugees and potential refugees in Europe is so vast that nothing but a scheme organised and administered and financed by Governments, with the whole weight of official backing behind it, can possibly provide permanent homes and permanent work for a substantial proportion of these people. Such a scheme would probably comprise a short-term plan, to which the noble Earl referred when he spoke of camps, for temporary accommodation in camps and settlements during which the refugee would probably be equipped for his later life, and a long-term plan for permanent settlement in undeveloped territory in South America or in Africa or wherever else is available. It seems to me that the essential thing is this. Whatever scheme may be devised in the immediate or in the distant future to meet this problem, we are bound to realise that private resources are rapidly drying up, and that nothing in the least effective can be done until the Governments concerned have accepted financial and administrative responsibility for the bulk of this floating refugee population.

Those are all the remarks that I wish to make about the problem in its broadest aspects, but with your Lordships' permission I will conclude with one or two references to the situation of Spanish refugees in whom I have been particularly interested for several years. I should like first of all to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance we have received from the Government in dealing with these refugees. Provided that we did not make any request for financial support every facility was given us. I should also like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the generosity of the British public which has made it possible to maintain and support 4,000 Basque refugee children in this country for more than two years. There are still further ways in which the Government could help us in dealing with these children from the Basque Provinces. I will not weary your Lordships by enumerating them this afternoon, although perhaps the noble Marquess will allow me to present my suggestions informally after the debate.

Another and a much larger problem is the question of the refugees in the South of France and in Algeria, to which the noble Earl referred in the course of his speech. I should like particularly to ask the Government what action they contemplate taking about the 5,000 odd refugees who are now settled in the neighbourhood of Oran. I understand negotiations have been in progress and that they started from the point where the Government intervened or agreed with the French Government that the refugees should be landed in British ships from Valencia at the Port of Oran, and it is generally accepted that the Government have resumed some sort of special responsibility in regard to these people. The problem of emigration is very simple in this case, because Mexico has offered to take them, provided the cost of their transport is paid.

The second question I should like to ask regarding the refugees from Spain is this. The noble Earl referred to the 300,000 refugees who are in camps in the South of France. When speaking of those who would be taking a great risk, to put it mildly, if they returned to Spain, he did not mention any figure, but I would like to suggest that it would be approximately 40,000. These are the people with whom we are specially concerned, people who would risk imprisonment or severe penalties of one kind or another, if they returned to Spanish territory. As the noble Earl said, our Committee sent 1,800 of these refugees to Mexico, where they have landed and where they have been very cordially welcomed, but this one ship cost about £25,000, and it is perfectly obvious that without financial assistance it will be impossible to deal with even a majority of this total number of Spaniards who cannot return to their native country.

The next question relates to the members of the International Brigade who are now mostly in camp in the South of France. I am thinking particularly of Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Italians and Poles, who cannot be repatriated whence they came. The noble Marquess will recollect that His Majesty's Government, in consultation with other Governments, devised a scheme which was accepted by the Non-intervention Committee for the repatriation of foreigners serving on both sides in the Spanish war. This was adopted by the Republican Government and they actually sent out the foreigners assisting them without waiting for similar action on the other side. In view of the consideration which His Majesty's Government must have given to this problem, and in view of its extreme urgency, because these unfortunate men cannot be taken back to their native countries and not even to Mexico, I should be very much obliged if His Majesty's Government can suggest any solution. If they feel that their generosity is being called upon in excess, I would merely like to point out that there is a precedent on which they have acted before, that is, the contribution they have made to the work of the International Red Cross. I understand that the International Red Cross in the South of France is engaged, at the moment, particularly, in bringing families together, in enabling husbands to trace their wives, wives to trace their husbands, parents to trace their children, and children to trace their parents. I understand they are in dire financial straits. The noble Marquess will remember that about a year ago His Majesty's Government presented the handsome gift of £5,000 to the International Red Cross for the relief work they were doing in the South of France.

I apologise for detaining your Lordships at such length, and I will conclude by making one further plea—this time not a plea for financial assistance—to His Majesty's Government. The refugees from Spain are not, like the other refugees from other parts of Europe at the present time, under the wing of the High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations. I am perfectly certain that it would greatly facilitate the whole task of providing them with shelter if the High Commissioner were given power by the League of Nations to concern himself with the refugees from Spain. If this matter is brought up at the next meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations I sincerely hope that it will have the full support of His Majesty's Government.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just spoken traversed a very wide field and emphasized what have already fallen from the noble Earl who moved the Motion—how wide and complex is this problem. I do not propose in the very few remarks that I would like to make to follow him into many of the wider ramifications of this subject, except only to say that it is obvious from the speeches that have been made that the refugees coming into this country are of many classes. They include Jews, non-Aryans, Spaniards, Czechs and others, and yet under the policy of His Majesty's Government, with which they are confronted when they get here, they are all treated exactly the same. I feel that to allow people to come in on the distinct understanding that someone has guaranteed every portion of their expense, that they may do no work whatsoever whilst here, and may merely stay here until they are passed on elsewhere, is not a very generous and not a very dignified attitude for a great country such as this to take up. With the adult population, apart from certain friends, I have nothing personally to do, but I would like specially to impress upon His Majesty's Government a more liberal attitude in respect of the children for which I have the honour to have some responsibility. They likewise, are treated, all of them, no matter what their age, their religion or their circumstances on coming into this country, on exactly the same footing. They may come in provided they have been guaranteed either by an individual or by an organisation, on the understanding that they will be repatriated on reaching the age of eighteen, as the noble Earl who moved the Motion stated.




I think it may well be argued that in respect of some of the older children, whose characters are to some extent formed, it may be the most helpful course that they should have a period of training in a settled country and that it would be to their best interests that they should then pass on to another part of the world, but the same arguments do not quite apply to much younger children. We have heard, and I should like to emphasize, the argument as to the fall in population here. What we are in fact asking people in this country to do is to take into their homes and to guarantee children for a certain length of time. Then, when they have got fully assimilated into the life of this country, when they have become, it well may be, popular inmates of a family, those who have brought them into this country are under an obligation to see that they leave this country again. It is perfectly obvious that there are great difficulties in keeping up a supply of guarantees and charity and help subject to those conditions, and though organisations such as the Council for German Jewry, with great generosity and foresight, have undertaken the relief of obligations in many particulars, still there remain these legal obligations to provide, not only full subsistence for the child while here, but also the means of re-emigrating it on reaching the age of eighteen.

I am told—I speak subject to correction by some noble and learned Lord—that there is no legal machinery by which a child of foreign parents can be legally adopted into a home in this country. That would seem to demand a remedy. If a young child of refugee parents, themselves unable to come, can get away from intolerable conditions and be brought to this country and then make its home here, and if then those who have taken it up desire to make it their child, it would seem only reasonable in those circumstances that there should be some legal machinery by which such a thing could be possible. I am told also that there is under consideration something that may be called "informal adoption." I do not know quite what can be meant by such a term as "informal adoption," but all that I would urge is that the policy of the Government in all these respects should be more liberal in their treatment, at any rate, of the children.

In saying so, and in conclusion, I think it only right to add that one must differentiate, as far as that is possible, between the Government and those who are carrying out the dictates of the Government, or the officials charged with insistence upon what may seem to be rather harsh requirements. I think there can be nothing but praise for the efficiency and also the human kindness with which they are carrying out their duties; but their hands are tied. I think, from what has already fallen from the noble Earl and other noble Lords, that it is obvious that this fear of the refugee is vastly exaggerated and there really is a very strong case now for the Government widening their requirements and treating this matter less in a legalistic and a little more in a humane and human spirit.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I speak as a member of one of the private organisations to which the noble Earl who introduced this subject referred. I should like on their behalf to express gratitude to him for the ability, sympathy and illumination with which he has opened this subject. I should also like to echo and emphasize the tribute just paid by the noble Earl to the Home Office officials and the officials of the other Government Departments, and also to the Government representatives abroad, for the sympathy and courtesy which are constantly behind us in dealing both with refugees and with their friends. There can be no doubt that the gravity of the whole refugee problem has increased immensely since a year ago, when the Evian Inter-Governmental Committee was created. I wish to support the noble Earl in asking for the fullest possible co-operation between the different Governments concerned, and for action by those Governments. I propose to try to give some grounds which seem to me to justify action by the Governments rather than, or in addition to, the voluntary organisations. In particular I would lay marked emphasis on the importance of co-operation between this country and the United States of America, for I believe that it is on co-operation between those two great Powers that the salvation of the refugees depends.

It is not necessary, after what has been said, to rehearse the multitude and variety of the refugee movements. I would only say that they are all due to political causes. They all constitute grave political problems, and in my opinion they cannot be dealt with adequately except with the aid of political remedies. The scale is great and increasing in greatness, and the refugee problem demands herculean efforts to tackle it adequately. I think we should be conservative and prudent in our figures. I will take the very low, conservative estimate of the number of refugees, including the Spanish refugees, who should be emigrated into countries outside Europe as 500,000. That is a low figure; but for the number, whatever it is—and it cannot be less than half a million—two things are wanted: first, countries of permanent refuge outside Europe for the vast majority; and second, money to settle them. Neither of these things can be secured without energetic action by the Governments concerned. I am not unaware of the difficulties, and I can well appreciate the immense pressure of this additional difficulty to those weighing upon the Government at the present time. I would only ask the Government two questions. First, is it right to leave the refugee problem unsolved? It cannot be right. The second is, do you wish to see it solved? If you do, then the wish carries the consequence that the Governments are bound to act.

The noble Earl referred to the formation of the Evian Inter-Governmental Committee with some disappointment. I think that the great justification of that particular machine is that it was inaugurated by the United States of America, who would not come in otherwise, and that it is the pledge of their co-operation in large-scale Government action. I should like, if I may, to pay a tribute to Sir Herbert Emerson, the High Commissioner, for the energy and thoroughness with which he is so actively discharging his task. The Evian Inter-Governmental Committee has established the principle of Government action in certain departments, and that is much to the good; though I realise that the condition is attached at present that the financing of new schemes must be left to private organisations, a condition which I think can hardly be fulfilled if the refugee problem is to be adequately tackled in the future.

Next, it has gone some distance, I understand, in securing facilities from the German Government of a financial kind for the involuntary migrants, who otherwise would depart, and do depart, stripped of their possessions. But the Inter-Governmental Committee have so far—at least, as far as the public and the refugees are informed—made little progress in persuading countries of permanent refuge to open their doors. I believe, and I have taken some trouble in investigating the matter, that there are three particular territories or kinds of territory which might be seriously regarded as territories of permanent refuge: the British Dominions; the Colonial Empires, our own and others; and South America. With regard to the first, we all know that the British Dominions are self-governing, and they have their own rules. Australia has already expressed its readiness to admit 15,000 German refugees during the next three years, and I hope is ready to take more. It was an interesting and encouraging sign last month that the New South Wales Labour Council passed a recommendation to admit refugees to trade unions. I think that we may have intimations of a more favourable attitude in the future from Australia. New Zealand has not, so far, declared its attitude officially, but it is clear that there is plenty of room for refugees in New Zealand if the imagination of the people could be aroused. South Africa has 5,000 German refugees, and it may not be possible to take very many more. Canada has already made arrangements for the reception of, I think, 400 families of Czech refugees. I hope that that is not the limit of its accommodation. Although agricultural conditions in Canada are severe, there is plenty of room.

Let me turn to the Colonial Empires, and I will speak only of our own. It is understood that the Colonial Empire of Great Britain is not ideal in its conditions for European settlement. I believe that the British Government will do its best, and already have taken very considerable steps, to elicit the sympathy of the Governors in many British Colonies, the West Indies amongst others. So far, the main contributor of offers is, as the most reverend Primate has stated, British Guiana. I think that at any rate it would be well to do the utmost one can to accept the principle of investigating the possibilities there with the greatest possible speed and thoroughness. The actual settlement proposed in the first instance is of 3,000 to 5,000 persons, though some people think that that is too large a number and the estimated cost is £200,000. Ultimately, if the conditions prove to be favourable, it should accommodate 50,000 to 60,000 persons.

There are many difficulties, difficulties of soil and so forth, and the distance from civilization; but there is one very important matter which I think is encouraging from the point of view of settlement of refugees there or elsewhere, and that is the promise which the Prime Minister made in another place that transport, in the largest sense of the word, is to be found for refugees settled in British Guiana. This constitutes a big offer. I am told that the value of the offer for the total settlement of the number of refugees contemplated, is £6,000,000. If the Government would make it known, especially to the United States of America, that it is prepared to spend a sum of £6,000,000 on rail and road transport, and so on, for the settlement of a large number of German refugees in British Guiana, that would be an immense incentive to the United States to do something of a corresponding character in South America.

I turn to South America. I believe that South America offers greater possibilities for the permanent settlement of refugees than any other part of the world, but there is, at present, great nervousness on the part of the Governments of South America, and the nervousness is very largely on political grounds. Some of the greatest of the South American States exclude Jews, the very persons for whom we are most anxious to find a refuge. This applies especially to Brazil, the Argentine, and Colombia. All of them are rich territories with great agricultural possibilities. The countries more immediately hospitable are, as one noble Lord said, Mexico, Chili, the Republic of Dominica and Ecuador. Here I would like to call special attention to the question of co-operation with the United States. Ecuador offers facilities, so I am told, for 10,000 families at the cost of £200 per family. She also offers to make some contribution towards transport facilities.

It is here, or in some similar South American Republic, that I believe the co-operation of the United States will prove invaluable. Already the United States Government is voting a sum towards South American development of £20,000,000, and it is asking the Senate or the Chamber to vote in the near future another £100,000,000 for South American development. If the United States would set aside £6,000,000 of this large sum which they have already voted, and the larger sum which they are expecting to vote for South American development, towards refugee settlement in Ecuador or some other Republic, they would provide very grateful citizens and helpers and friends of the United States, and forge a further link still of those links which they are anxious to forge between North America and South America. Their money would not be lost, and they would have most faithful colonists. I hope your Lordships will forgive the detail with which I have referred to countries for refugees. I have done so because I want to make it as plain as possible, first, that there is plenty of room in the world for refugees, and that there are very many countries in which the refugee would be an asset; and secondly, that we shall not get the refugees into that large room without vigorous Government action.

I know it is still said that the refugee problem is one for private organisation and that the State has no responsibility except that of opening a door. I wish to devote my final remarks to reasons why, in my opinion, the action of the State is called for. First—and I think this is fundamental to the point to which the noble Earl has just referred—the existing refugee problem everywhere is a direct result of the policy of various Governments. It can be fairly argued—and a historian is bound to express a judgment—that violence and anti-Jewish persecution and the other causes of other refugee movements are the results in a very large measure of mistakes in policy by the various Governments during the fourteen years which immediately followed the Armistice. Although the results of those mistakes in policy could not be foreseen at the time, I think it is not unreasonable to say that for the consequences of those mistakes in policy some great responsibility must be accepted by existing Governments.

Next, reference has been repeatedly made to the very large amount of money found, especially through the magnificent generosity of the Jews, by voluntary organisations. I should like to pay tribute to the wonderful work done by the German Emergency Committee of the Society of Friends during these years, who have raised over £60,000 publicly, and I think another £60,000 in the way of guarantees; and also to the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, which has raised over £90,000. The total figure raised is a very large one indeed. But, large as it is, the amount of money required to settle 500,000 refugees—which I regard as a conservative figure—in countries outside Europe is entirely beyond the resources of private charity unaided. As the most reverend Primate pointed out, the charitable public are not so likely to respond to the appeal for the temporary assistance of refugees in the future if the outlet does not appear to be very substantial. The lag of emigration behind the new entries has been increasing at an alarming rate. I will give four different figures of the German Jewish Aid organisation. In January, 1938, 150 new entries were registered and there were 77 emigrations in that month. A year later, in January, 1939, there were 2,001 registered entries and only 197 emigrations. In April, 1938, there were 255 registered entries and only 49 emigrations. In April, 1939, there were 4,333 registered entries and only 311 emigrations.

I think the figure that has been given for the refugees now in England has still been understated, even by recent speakers. The official Government figure at the end of May was 35,000 German refugees in England, and at the end of June there is no doubt that they amounted to 40,000. Again, comparing our efforts with the efforts of France, both on the financial and on the receiving side France is far and away the largest country of refuge in Europe. It has received 300,000 Spanish refugees and 210,000 other refugees. In addition, the French Government have been spending since the end of January, on Spanish refugees, at a rate of between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 francs or something like £30,000 or £40,000 per day. If all these facts are borne in mind, the conclusion is inevitable that, whatever was the case a year ago, the refugee problem is now entirely beyond the scope of private charity and private organisation.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that the great needs are, first, the energetic opening of all possible countries of refuge by Government action, and, second, the co-operation of the Governments in financing settlement schemes in some way—there are various ways which are possible—to enable large numbers of refugees of different nations to settle in whatever part of the world is open to them. I would also urge that the British Government should take every opportunity they have to collaborate with the Government of the United States and to take the initiative by action and offers of their own, asking the Government of the United States what they also are prepared to do. The problems are great, but they are not insoluble. The answer depends on the answer we give to the two questions which I asked when I began: First, is it right to leave the refugee problem unsolved? Second, do you wish that it should be solved? If you wish that it should be solved, then the Governments are bound to act.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I would remind your Lordships that every refugee arriving in this country comes here either for permanent settlement or in transit to some other country of permanent settlement. We have had, both from the most reverend Primate and from the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken, two extremely, I might almost say unusually, practical contributions to this problem, because both of them have laid their fingers on the weak spot—namely, the outlet for the refugees who are coming to this country. I am particularly glad that the right reverend Prelate referred to the need for co-operation with the United States of America, because that country is the largest single recipient of refugees for permanent settlement in the world, receiving as it does between 27,000 and 30,000 German and Austrian refugees every year for permanent settlement. A very large number of the refugees in England at the present time have visas for the United States, which they will be able to make use of as soon as the quota permits during the course of the next year or two. Therefore it is vital that we should co-operate very closely with the United States of America, both in the immediate task and in the final task of discovering an area for permanent settlement.

Palestine also has taken a limited number for permanent settlement, unfortunately not as large a number as we would have hoped. Australia has been referred to. There is a possibility, as the result of the examination of the prospects in the Kimberley district by a delegation that has gone there, that Australia may be able to contribute rather more than they have already offered to do. This of course has nothing to do with the Government because the Dominions have their own outlook. I have just returned from South Africa where I found, as has been said, they have received a considerable number of refugees, but they are not prepared to take any large additional number. I cannot but feel some sympathy with their attitude on this point. We then come to the smaller areas—the areas which might be called infiltration areas. It should be clearly understood that the total contribution which these infiltration areas can make to the receiving for permanent settlement of refugees now in our country as transit refugees is a very limited one. I have seen refugees, nearly one hundred in number, sitting in Swaziland; hardly any of whom have any work or any possibility of obtaining work. I have seen refugees in Southern Rhodesia who have no work, who cannot obtain work, and who contribute to the refugee resistance of such countries when it comes to the question of further settlement. I believe that we cannot rely on infiltration for any serious contribution to the settlement of this problem.

It is increasingly difficult to receive more transit refugees in Great Britain until we can find a means of outlet. It is true we are training large numbers. We are training them, of course, not only in Britain but in France. I have visited within the last few days admirable training schools in France where hundreds and hundreds of refugees are being taught modern methods of earning a living; but they are methods which cannot be employed in this country any more than they can be employed in France. They are only suitable to be used when a country of permanent settlement is found for these refugees. In passing, let me say that my own inquiries as to the number of refugees in this country agree entirely with the figure mentioned by the Bishop of Chichester. I believe there are to-day about 40,000 refugees, and I do not honestly think we can complain too much of the attitude of the Government in receiving refugees at the present time in view of the difficulties which are inevitable in a country like ours. I do not say all has been done that might have been done, but on the whole I think there has been a gradual and regular improvement in the number of refugees received in Britain during the course of the last six or eight months.

What we need rather more than mere willingness on the part of private organisations to finance the receiving and temporary settlement of refugees in this county is a policy. The system of sending a few refugees here, sending an inquiry to Northern Rhodesia, sending a few infiltration refugees to this part of the world or the other, represents a lack of policy and not a real contribution to the finding of a large-scale outlet for the enormous number of refugees who are coming in, who have come in, and who will and must come in if they are to be saved. I am inclined to think we might combine a consideration of the development of our own Empire with the possibilities of mass settlement. There has been in the last few days a number of letters in The Times dealing with what is called our "undeveloped estate." There was a leading article only a few days ago pointing out that British capital was not being used in the development of our own Empire or, at any rate, not being adequately used. I would only say in this connection that it seems we might possibly combine the development of the British Empire with the development of a permanent and large-scale mass settlement of refugees.

I am inclined to think that British Guiana offers very considerable possibilities. Noble Lords will have read the Report of the joint British and United States Commission of Inquiry, which seems to me to offer at least some hope of a fairly large-scale, possibly a very large-scale, settlement within the next five or ten years. But we should make an immediate start. The Government offer to spend a sum of money is a very valuable one. I did not know it amounted to anything like as much as was suggested by the right reverend Prelate—£6,000,000—but at any rate it is an offer which we should definitely make use of. Let us begin with, perhaps, one or two thousand settlers and build up the possibility of a really large-scale settlement in that country immediately, within the next few years. There is another factor in connection with British Guiana. It is in the British Empire. Recommendations have been made by noble Lords in this House who have led delegations to that country, including Lord Halifax and Lord Snell, that it would be of value to develop British Guiana not from the point of view of refugees, but from the point of view of the British Empire. It seems to me that these recommendations might be pulled out of their pigeon holes and used now with the object of combining two valuable objects at the same time.

Moreover—and here comes in a suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester—the United States is profoundly concerned at the present time with the development of a check on democracy in South America. British Guiana, if developed, might be a very bastion of democracy against the encroachments of other nations into the democratic régime of the South American Republics which is causing such immense concern to the United States. It seems, therefore, that we might get some co-operative effort between ourselves and the United States in connection with the development of a democratic part of the British Empire in South America. There is another point in this connection. Reference has been made to the potential refugee problem of countries such as Poland and others in Eastern Europe. Poland, as I understand the political situation, at present is to some extent an ally of Britain or, at any rate, has some connection with the democracies generally. Poland has recently been demanding Colonies for the settlement of her own surplus population. We might very well make available this mass settlement plan for some at least of the surplus population of Poland, and thereby make a contribution to that better understanding between Poland and the democracies which would, I fancy, be of some value in the present political state of the world.

I have only one further observation to make. The Government did promise, when we had a debate on this subject in December last year, that they would consider the possibility of giving help themselves. I think they want a bit of encouragement in that. I would rather like to suggest that perhaps the Jewish Palestinian organisations, who have succeeded in building up a very remarkable example of settlement in Palestine, might make a contribution to the possibilities of settlement, shall we say, in British Guiana by sending perhaps 400 or 500 of their best trained young pioneers, who have themselves built up the development in Palestine, to start the ball rolling in the settlement in British Guiana and thereby make it possible for British Guiana to make a start, while at the same time creating another 500 vacancies in Palestine for the refugees who are trying to come out from Germany and Austria. I believe if we were to put some such suggestion to the Jewish Agency to co-operate in this development, it would encourage the Government to give them the aid which is vital from the Government at this time, because of the almost impossible task which the private organisations are attempting to undertake.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has so admirably stated the case that to support his arguments would be only to repeat them, but I should like from my personal experience of some German refugee cases to contribute one point which may be of great practical importance. I have been acquainted with several cases of German refugees and their families who are destined for the Dominions, and I see reason to ask the Government to give great attention to the importance of closer co-operation between the Home Office and the Dominion Governments. Great interest is felt in the Dominions. They realise that they are looked to as the chief controllers of semi-populated or unpopulated lands, but as they are very far from the countries where the problem is created they are naturally not so moved as those living nearer to those countries. To some extent, therefore, they take their cue from the home country.

I think that the home Government might use their good offices with the Dominion Governments to a greater extent than they have done. If more were done in the way of assistance to the refugee problem it would be a good service for the Empire. The Dominions realise that not to help the Mother Country in a high degree in a crisis of this kind would be a disservice to the Empire, and they are doing a great deal, but they might well do more. The opinion of the outside world on the contribution that they make is keenly held, and is not to be disregarded. The potential activity is very great in the Dominions. Australia, for instance, has made a definite promise to take 5,000 refugees per annum, and the Labour Party in Australia, which at one time was thought to be hesitating in its welcome to refugees, has particularly urged that the Australian Commonwealth Government should not insist on a money test but should be more liberal in its acceptance.

Apart from the question of the numbers to be taken there is a very important question of avoiding delay. What happens is that among the melancholy crowds of applicants at our Consulate at Berlin or elsewhere in Germany the Consul selects an extremely small number. He gives a visa in cases which have been accepted for Australia or New Zealand as the case may be. The result is that the refugee arrives in this country. The sum of ten marks which may be taken out of Germany is probably exhausted. He and his family are here without cash, and they are dependent entirely upon the hospitality which can be furnished by one of the relief committees. I know from experience of several cases that prolonged delay occurs. Months are lost during which what small provision of hospitality there is is exhausted. I have known a case of a cottage which happened to be vacant and has been placed at the service of one of the committees. This contribution in the way of hospitality, which might have served for a dozen cases, has served only for one. Time is used up on a single case which should have provided for a large number, and the result is a waste of the already inadequate resources in the way of hospitable provision. There is also the injury to the morale of the refugees. They become disheartened; they have very often nothing to do; they are prohibited by the conditions of their permit from doing any serious work, either paid or unpaid, and very great evil results from delay alone.

I would like to suggest that the Home Office might co-operate more closely with Australia House and the other Dominion Offices so that if possible the Consul at the place of origin might give a visa which would enable the refugee to go practically direct to the Dominion. Another evil which arises because of delay is that the guarantee which the Aliens' Department requires becomes expensive, and is a deterrent to the comparatively few people who can afford to undertake the considerable risks of guaranteeing a refugee. The guarantees available are limited in number. Not many are willing or able to undertake them and the stock of guarantees ought to be made to go as far as possible. But it is a very big problem to make the available money go as far as possible as long as we are dependent unfortunately on private resources. Constant appeals come, as the noble Earl said in his speech, to those who may be thought to be willing to respond. They come from individuals, particularly in Germany, and largely from Germans who happen to know some person in this country, or who have the enterprise to write to a person whom they do not know. The result is that the most needy and desirable cases are commonly not selected, and the privilege of the guarantee goes perhaps to a family which belongs rather to the well-to-do class, known to people in this country, who are not the most likely to make successful emigrants to a Dominion. It would be infinitely more profitable if a more systematic plan were in operation by which the committee here, with their agents in Germany who are acquainted with the cases, were able to use the guarantees to the best advantage, selecting the cases which are the most desirable. On an actuarial basis the given funds could be made surely to go further than they go now. It would be both more economical and more efficient.

Apart from this point, I would specially like to urge that the Government should at least consider financial help to the business of investigation of the possibilities of settlement. The case of British Guiana has been widely advertised and examined, but look at the immense delay which has already occurred and how small an investigation has been made of possible countries of destination in the months which have elapsed since the greatest public interest was roused after the unhappy events of last November. Particularly I would like to support the noble Earl's appeal for the admission of larger numbers to this country. The Home Secretary has effectively refuted the theory that the refugee is an economic injury to the country in which he settles. On all accounts, I hope we may see the consent of the Government to financial assistance on a new principle. All the experts have expressed themselves strongly in favour, and I think, moreover, the appeal is justified by the very considerable increase in public concern on this question, in spite of rival interests and preoccupations. One keeps hearing of new local committees. One was formed in Westminster the other day. It happened to meet in my house. Everywhere the country is deeply roused on this question of refugees. At all events let us not pretend that there is a possible solution on the lines of private charity because it would be hypocritical to urge that solution is possible on those lines. Unless we are to face the spectacle of vast numbers of victims of persecution, for the most part highly civilised people, including children, women, invalids and old people, continuing to live a life of misery as a result of extreme poverty and degrading humiliation, then we must realise that the time has come for Governmental action. Would it be inappropriate if the Government decided that the unused portion of the money allocated to Czecho-Slovakia quite recently, or some portion at least of that money, should be used for the finance of the relief problem in other ways than was intended when the grant of £10,000,000 was announced?

The noble Earl has made an unanswerable case. It is unhappily true that we in this country have not come up to the highest standard. We have done about the same as Holland has done, and about one-fourteenth of what France has done. We have got a character for humane feeling to maintain. We are, to a great extent, a Christian country, and it will be a disaster if we do not in this extraordinarily urgent crisis live up to our traditions. There are cases where the Government may very well resist the claim to Governmental finance, but this is not one. There were people who thought that after the Czecho-Slovak disaster Governmental finance should not be provided, but that was rightly held to be a case for Governmental action, and I think the case of the refugees in general is, in principle, a parallel case. What we have done has not been quite proportionate to our opportunities. We have more means than others to take effective action. To whom much is given of them much is expected.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, at the conclusion of an extremely interesting debate, I am sure your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I have only two points to raise. They are points which have already been touched on by other speakers, and I only wish to emphasize them. I want to draw attention to conclusions which I have the impression have been reached by one of the bodies which deal with refugees in this country—the British Committee for Refugees from Czecho-Slovakia—conclusions which seem to me reasonable, and in dealing with them I think I can keep within the terms of the noble Earl's Motion. This Committee, which has its seat in Mecklenburg Square, has occupied itself for some time with emigrants from the Czech and Sudeten and Austrian regions. It will be borne in mind, I trust, by your Lordships, that not only the natural inclinations of this Committee—which is one composed, I may say, entirely of Englishmen—but also the enforced and frequent contacts that the Committee is obliged to maintain both with the Ministry of Labour and the trade union organisations, preclude altogether any possibility of foreign labour being preferred to home labour where such immigrants are concerned. In fact, so strict is the supervision that I am informed that hitherto only a very few immigrants from the countries I have mentioned have been able to find permanent posts in this country. In addition to that, your Lordships will realise that, unless I am much mistaken, any firm occupied with Government contracts is forbidden to employ foreign labour, which seems natural enough.

I should like to suggest, these being the circumstances, that two problems arise out of the present situation with regard to such immigrants. One is that, which I think the noble Earl touched upon, of a possible shortage of skilled labour in certain trades in this country, a shortage which we have reason to believe does exist. At the present time only very few immigrants from the areas I have mentioned are allowed to stay permanently, and of these it is almost entirely skilled labourers who are allowed to stay. I should like to suggest that His Majesty's Government might consider the possibility of increasing this quota. After all, it is established, I think, that there is a shortage, and in that case there would obviously be no unfair competition. The second problem, upon which I think the most reverend Primate touched, and which seems to me to be a much more thorny one, is that of admitting here as permanent citizens children from these countries, in view of the declining birthrate, a subject lately discussed in your Lordships' House. These children would naturally have to be selected with great care, but it seems to me that if that were done it is extremely possible that such stock might be a real acquisition to the country. I should like to suggest that His Majesty's Government should therefore consider extending the scope and increasing the number of the permits which are being granted at present. These permits are so far nearly all for temporary stays only in this country, with re-emigration in view.

I must say that I have so far been principally thinking of Aryan immigrants, but as a matter of general interest to your Lordships I should like to add in passing that I am informed that, in view of the very real and well-known shortage of agricultural labour in this country, there is already a definite demand for Jewish agricultural labourers from Central Europe, and that apparently, odd though it may seem, such experiments as have been tried in that line have been up to now, even in remote country places in England, completely successful. Therefore, to sum up, everything seems to point to the necessity for the Home Office and the Ministry of Labour to review once again the situation as it stands at present and to make a fresh declaration of the situation as a whole, in particular in view of what I suppose we can only call the failure of the Evian Conference, and in view, particularly, of this golden opportunity of satisfying our own glaring needs from the need of these very unfortunate people.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, since the subject of refugees was last debated in your Lordships' House, it so happens that I have succeeded the noble Viscount below me, Lord Samuel, as Chairman of the central body dealing with the problem from the Jewish point of view, with all that tenure of that office involves of constant responsibility and anxiety. But I would in passing point out that the various refugee organisations do not work in water-tight compartments according to their particular faith or particular section of belief, but so far as possible they work in harmonious collaboration. It may be not inappropriate if I give your Lordships a very brief outline of the problem as we see it and as we endeavour to cope with it.

In the first place we have to recognise that life in any accepted sense of that word is no longer possible for any Jew or person of Jewish descent in greater Germany. If your Lordships doubt the truth of that proposition, it will perhaps suffice if I tell you that of the 80,000 Jews still alive in Vienna no less than 45,000 are to-day in receipt from Jewish communal sources of such measure of actual food as will keep body and soul together, while the remainder are rapidly dissipating what remains of their capital. To such tragic ruin has that once prosperous and enlightened community descended. In the second place, we have to recognise that with the limited means at our disposal we must concentrate upon the rescue of the young and fit, and in the main sacrifice, however reluctantly, the old and the infirm. We must bring out those who are still sufficiently vigorous and adaptable to start a new life in a strange country and under unfamiliar conditions. In the third place, we have to make provision for the maintenance of those whom we bring out until we are able to settle them in final re-emigration.

Our problem in this country is therefore twofold: first, the temporary maintenance of the transmigrants, and secondly, their ultimate settlement abroad. Neither of those two tasks is easy, nor is becoming easier with the passing of time. Very large sums, as your Lordships have been told this afternoon, have been contributed by the Jewish community in this country, and those who have given them at least have the double satisfaction of knowing, first, that they have taken a hand in a work of urgent humanity, and secondly, that most of the money which they have contributed is being spent in this country, with consequent benefit to the trade of this country.

In passing, when I say that large sums have been contributed from Jewish sources, I should like to take, if it be neither irrelevant nor impertinent, the opportunity of expressing our thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for lending the prestige of his name to his appeal, and for making the very human and humane speech with which he inaugurated it. The money which we spend is happily not spent in unproductive relief alone, for we make every effort to train refugees to this country in agriculture and in craftsmanship in order that they may be able to compete with life in the countries for which they are ultimately bound. Recently, in the interests of economy as well as of greater facility of occupation, we have started on a considerable scale a camp at Richborough, near Sandwich. If any of your Lordships doubt the quality of the men who are being brought to this country or the spirit which animates them, I trust that you will take the opportunity, if you should be in that neighbourhood, of visiting the camp. You will not only be warmly welcomed but you will see the spectacle, at once heartbreaking and heartening, of lawyers, doctors, writers, musicians, side by side with shopkeepers and artisans, breaking up the ground for the planting of vegetables, laying concrete roads, making gardens and performing all the manifold tasks of a camp with a co-operative cheerfulness and energy which are beyond praise. The inhabitants of that camp have received many touching kindnesses from the local residents, and I would instance only one, that of the teachers in the Isle of Thanet, who have given up much of their evening leisure in order to devote themselves to teaching English, nightly, to the refugees.

Those measures, and measures like them, do not exhaust our problem. There are those in this country who proclaim, perhaps less vocally now than a little while ago, that by bringing in these refugees we are taking work away from the British workman and neglecting our own unemployed. The overwhelming answer to that contention is the one to which Lord Derwent made reference, that in all our activities we proceed with the consent of the Government Departments concerned and with the concurrence of the trade unions as well. It is idle to suggest that either of those are going to encourage us, even if we wished to do so, to displace British by foreign labour. Equally, nothing is further from our own minds or our own purpose or our own intention. We do endeavour to bring into this country people who are fit and proper persons to obtain admission to it. I am told at times that by our activities we are increasing anti-Semitism in this country. If it be so it is a very slight, and in my opinion a very transient, increase. I want to say only one thing on that aspect. We have had good cause in the past years to look closely at the world, and we have seen in almost every civilised country anti-Semitism being used as a smoke-screen for the covert advance of Nazi doctrines, and I cannot but believe that those who, whether from ignorance or prejudice, accept those doctrines in this country are, consciously or unconsciously, playing directly into Nazi hands, and in that way, by accepting those doctrines, doing a disservice to their own country.

We have not only the problem of dealing with these people in this country, but we have the problem of finding outlets, to which reference has been made this afternoon. Before I leave the aspect of work in this country I should like to express our sincere gratitude to the Government and to Government officials with whom we have been dealing during these years. We have tried to show the measure of our gratitude by working with them in co-operation, and by trying to obey not only the letter but the spirit of their regulations, and by making such effort as was within our power to lift some of the burden of extra work which has fallen upon the always patient, kindly and tireless officials at the Home Office. But we have been overburdened too, and if sometimes you hear criticism of the efficiency of the Jewish refugee organisations, you will perhaps bear in mind that they were extemporized almost from one day to another in order to deal with a sudden crisis, that they have been expanded to meet successive crises, and that we have never yet had a respite in which to sit back and survey the whole field. You will perhaps not forget, also, that we have been for years trying to maintain a miniature Whitehall, without a Civil Service to conduct administration or a House of Commons to vote supply.

As regards the other aspect, the provision of outlets, not a little has been done by means of infiltration, but I do not pretend that that is the way which we should choose in which to solve the problem if other opportunities were discernible. We are always looking for other outlets, whether it be in Northern Rhodesia, British Guiana, San Domingo, the Philippines, or elsewhere. In all those countries investigations have proceeded, and the reports of some already have been received; but mass settlement takes money and time. Indeed, in the case of British Guiana the report itself recommends a preliminary period of experiment to be carried out with a number of some 3,000 to 5,000 refugees, at an estimated cost—and I think an underestimated cost,—with all respect to the right reverend Prelate, not of £200,000 but £600,000, the results of which, since it is in essence a period of experiment, cannot possibly be known for two or three years. Therefore we have to ask for patience, and we have also to beg that you will remember that if the position here sometimes seems static it cannot be liquefied overnight. I would ask you also to remember that those who are responsible know their responsibilities and are anxious only to live up to them. But I have personally come to the inescapable conclusion that it is impossible that voluntary contribution alone should deal both with the problem of maintenance and with the problem of settlement, and indeed the problem of maintenance becomes increasingly onerous in proportion as the problem of settlement remains unsolved. It is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that at least where the development of the resources of a British Colony is the secondary object and the primary effect, in such cases as those the British Government should go further in offering assistance than the provision, however valuable it may be, of means of internal transport within the Colony, such as is envisaged in the British Guiana Report.

We have, I hope and believe, done our best in circumstances of difficulty and of delicacy, and although we have made mistakes, and shall make more, at the same time we have not, in our preoccupation with our immediate problem, forgotten our duty to our own country. I do not propose to indulge in superfluous protestations of the loyalty to Great Britain of British Jews. This is our home, and to many of us has been so for generations. But we were all immigrants once, as, in very different conditions, were some of your Lordships, and, just for that reason, because we enjoy and cherish the blessings of freedom, of tolerance, and of security, we feel ourselves now compelled to hold out a rescuing and a welcoming hand to those of our faith whose world, from no fault of their own, has crashed in chaos about them.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at this late hour to speak on two points only. First, I do hope that, in discussing this grave and delicate problem, everybody who speaks about it, or who works among the refugees, will emphasize the fact that in the present state of the world, and at this period of the world's history, the days of mass migration and mass settlement are over. That was the phenomenon of the nineteenth century, when vast numbers of Italians went to the Argentine, when Poles, Czechs, Irish and British went to the United States, and when our own Dominions expanded. Look at the change that has come over the British Dominions. Canada with a stationary population, a country twice the size of India, yet with only 10,000,000 people, and a Government taking a positive risk in saying that they can admit 400 refugees a year. No, I am convinced that, owing to widespread, in fact universal, economic forces, particularly the relation of agricultural prices to industrial prices, which is one of the root facts in the whole position, the era of mass migration is definitely over, and that all migration must take the form of what is called infiltration. And I am not at all sure that that is not a desirable thing.

Let us be frank about anti-Semitism. No one, I think, will accuse me of being the least bit anti-Semitic, but let us be frank. What is the danger? It is that of forming too big a block of Jews all together, whom their surrounding neighbours feel are an alien and a different race. Much better is the British system. Why is there less anti-Semitism here probably than elsewhere, and why is anti-Semitism in Great Britain confined to certain small districts in the East of London? It is because the Jews have come here and have scattered among the population; they have merged into the general population, and have not lived in a ghetto. Do not let us make any new ghettoes in the new world whether in British Guiana or elsewhere. Let it be a process of infiltration.

May I say a word about British Guiana, having been there? Do not encourage undue optimism, and do try out the experiment with a very small body first. Noble Lords opposite talk about making roads. Well, I have been on the roads of British Guiana. They are all made of burnt earth because there is no stone to make roads. Every bag of cement has to be imported because there is no lime. And the moment you are away from the seashore you are into that vast tropical forest, the most intractable forest in the world, because all the timber is so heavy that it will not float down the rivers. That is not peculiar to British Guiana. It is common to Dutch Guiana, French Guiana, the whole of the northern part of Brazil north of the Amazon, the hinterland of Venezuela, and the southern part of the Republic of Colombia, all of which have practically no population at all in spite of the efforts of centuries to get some mastery of that forest. No, it must be an inevitably slow penetration.

The reason why that belt of the tropical world has remained almost uninhabited, just as a great part of the tropical forest of Africa was sparsely populated by native Africans, is that it presents physical obstacles to man's existence such as obtain nowhere else in the world, not even in the frozen north of Canada. The Dutch have tried bringing in Javanese. And look at the history of attempts to develop British Guiana. Attempts have been made to form colonies of Barbadoans from an island only a few hundred miles away. Barbados is also in the tropics, with a negro population of tropical people, yet the climate and the physical conditions of British Guiana are so fundamentally different from those of Barbados that those efforts were not successful. The most successful schemes in British Guiana have resulted from the introduction of natives of Southern India. People coming from Madras and Southern India have made good there as rice cultivators, having been habituated for generations to a climate similar to that damp, humid, tropical climate which is a feature of that part of tropical South America. Study what the French have done to try to develop the Colony of Cayenne, which is an identically similar country to British Guiana, and you will realise that we do not just depend upon the report of one set of experts. Everybody in British Guiana knows that what is wanted is more capital; they want more development, they want more people, in the hope that their Colony will flourish. But do not encourage people to believe that mass migration is possible in that part of the world, even with the expenditure of £6,000,000 on a railway through that vast forest. No, it must be by general infiltration.

But that brings us back to—what? My other point this afternoon is this. We have to face the fact, and I hope the Government will face the fact. We have got to tell the people of this country the truth fairly and squarely that these refugees whom we have admitted, and rightly admitted, will probably be in our midst a great deal longer than was originally anticipated, and, inevitably and rightly, we must relax some of the restrictions on their employment in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, put forward the views of the Committee in Mecklenburg Square. I have just returned from the United States of America, where the Czechs are regarded as the best labour in that country—men who have a remarkable power of turning over from one industry to another. We have in our midst these Czech refugees of different ages. I am perfectly certain that there is absolutely no reason why these Czech children of school age now being taught English in this country should not be British subjects permanently to the enrichment of this country.

I may be prejudiced because one of my ancestors was a pure-blooded French Huguenot. There was the same outcry in the time of Queen Anne that British labour was being displaced, but the Huguenots were the making of many British industries and are some of the best stock in this country to-day. I am convinced we have nothing to fear in a free country like this if we bring the children of these refugees up not as a segregated community who must be watched day and night to see they do not do anything improper and under the threat that they are going to be sent to some other country. The psychological effect on the child is deplorable, and I am convinced it is the duty of the Minister of Labour to take the matter up with the sensitive Trade Union Congress and try to do something to relax the regulations regarding the employment of refugees, particularly the employment and the future of refugee children in this country. I say that all the more because the prospect in the future countries of settlement is so difficult at this stage in the economic history of the world.

I believe that the present British Government, and the officials of the Foreign Office, and the Home Office, have been most liberal in admitting threatened families of refugees and the politically persecuted from Central Europe. The stream that has come in quietly here is the result of liberal treatment by this country. Of course you can say there ought to have been more, and so on, but on the whole it has been liberal. I do hope we shall not have the phenomenon of which I am afraid, of these refugees coming to this country from the persecution and torture and tyranny of Central Europe, their first month here one of absolute thankfulness and delight, but finding themselves month after month forbidden to take employment, supported by charity—what kind of population are you thus going to make in this country? The effect on the refugees, the effect on this country, is going to be bad. I want the Ministry of Labour the Home Office, and the Trade Union Congress to co-operate from now on to see if they cannot be more liberal in what refugees of all races and all faiths who have come here, persecuted, may be allowed to do to encourage them to become useful citizens of this free country.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to take the point the noble Lord has just made because I must admit to your Lordships I am considerably puzzled by two rather contradictory streams which seem to me to have run through this debate. Most, if not all, of the noble Lords who have spoken have had personal experience of the various refugee committees which are set up, and therefore have spoken with personal and expert knowledge which I cannot claim; but I am emboldened to speak to your Lordships for just a minute because there is a point of principle on which I wish to press the noble Marquess who is going to reply on behalf of the Government. I was struck by a phrase which fell from the noble Earl on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Listowel) when he said—I am not sure whether he gave it as a matter of opinion or as a matter of fact—that this country was ceasing to be a country of asylum. I am not quite sure how far that is justifiable. I gather from the noble Lord who has just spoken that he feels strongly that the policy of this country has been a liberal one, and therefore I must assume there is a difference of opinion. One thing is clear, and that is that very great numbers of potential refugees are being kept out.

The point to which I would direct the attention of the noble Marquess is, what is the policy of the Government on the main question? We have been proud of the role that this country has for centuries played as a country of asylum. I do not think we can deny that while we may have the right to be proud, at the same time we all know it is a policy which has redounded to our great profit. Is that still the policy of this country or is it not? Is it just possible that a situation has arisen in which sectional interests are so powerful and so vocal that they have succeeded in each case in making a good individual reason for opposition to immigration, and that our national policy has therefore in some measure become overlain by a concatenation of sectional oppositions? The question of great principle is this: Is it still true to-day that a stream of refugee immigration is of value to this country or is it not? The noble Earl who introduced the Motion spoke of an investment. What I want to know from the Government is, do they still feel that our historic and traditional policy is right? Are immigrants an investment—a long-term investment if you like, which may carry with it some temporary liability? Many of your Lordships must have given prizes at school. I wonder how many of your Lordships have spoken to the school boys about character being their greatest asset. Is that true or is it not? If it is true, surely we must still maintain our traditional policy of being a country of asylum?

I am left with the impression, from the speeches of noble Lords who have spoken with great knowledge, that we cannot claim to-day that we are still a country of asylum in the same measure as we have been in the past. Do not let us drift into a condition of refusal when a long-term policy, even if accompanied by some temporary liability, might in the end redound greatly not only to our honour but to our profit. Is there a case for inquiry? I speak with great diffidence because I do not know; but I hear it stated on all sides by those who advocate the admission of more refugees that we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces in keeping them out. What a double tragedy if not only we are contributing to the tragedy of these unfortunate people who are being condemned to a living death in other countries, but at the same time we are refusing to profit by what would be to ourselves an opportunity and a benefit!

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, there was, at any rate, one part of the speech of the noble Earl who introduced this Motion with which I found myself in very considerable agreement, and that was when he referred to the difficulty of co-ordinating the work of what he called six Departments, although I myself believe only four are concerned. I must therefore apologise if at some stages I appear to be rather disjointed in my arguments, because it has been a very considerable effort to co-ordinate the various briefs with which I have been furnished. While I am on that point I must point out that a Minister is actually co-ordinating this work of refugees in the person of the Paymaster-General, Lord Winterton, and I think, therefore, that that particular criticism of the Government falls to the ground. But, as a Government, we welcome most sincerely the Motion which Lord Lytton has put down as it gives us an opportunity to explain to some extent our policy with regard to a problem which has touched what by a paradox I may call a nerve of Christian sympathy in the hearts of all whether they call themselves Christians or whether they call themselves Jews. I furthermore fully agree with the noble Lord when he stressed the wide extent of the problem with which we are faced. This problem of anti-Semitism has, of course, occurred very often before in the history of the world. Usually it has burned itself out fairly quickly, but I do not think that the world has ever witnessed the problem in so vigorous and in so acute a form as the one in which it presents itself to us to-day.

Furthermore, while agreeing with him and with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, when they said that to some extent the measure of our civilisation can be judged by the attitude we adopt to this problem and the way in which we tackle it, I do not think that so far we need be ashamed of what the reaction of ourselves and other civilised countries has been when this problem was first presented to them. I would like first to speak of those countries which were nearest to the problem—those countries of first refuge, of which we have heard so much. I confess that the debate has taken a turn different from that which I expected, in so far as great emphasis was laid on the countries of first refuge and comparatively little emphasis was laid on those countries where ultimate settlement might be expected, but in regard to the countries who have been asked to contribute to this emergency I would like to say how much I agree with those noble Lords who praised the work both of Belgium and Holland. Those countries have contributed, one might almost say, out of all proportion to their populations to the help of these refugees, and I can assure your Lordships that this country will do all it can to help those countries in the natural difficulties in which they might find themselves involved as a consequence. I would also like to pay tribute to the way in which Poland, which has been mentioned during the debate, has treated the refugees from Czecho-Slovakia. It has done it in a most generous and warm-hearted manner. Finally, there is France, which, as has often been pointed out, has not merely got this particular problem of the Jewish refugees from Germany to deal with, but also the very grave question of the refugees coming over the border from Spain.

Nor, in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of most of your Lordships, though there has been some difference of view, has Great Britain during these last years had anything to reproach herself with in the attitude that she has adopted as a country of first refuge. There was, of course, the Lord Baldwin Fund; there were the extraordinarily generous contributions made by British Jews; there were the local refugee committees set up, and the private houses that were offered. At the present moment there are 40,000 refugees in this country. They are made up in various ways and in various categories. For instance, we have allowed in just under 7,000 children, who have been admitted, it is true, on the condition that they are re-emigrated at the age of eighteen, but the Home Office is already in consultation with the movement for the care of children from Germany as to the possibility of absorbing some of the younger children who cannot rejoin their parents in another country. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the noble Earl's point, and the point that has been made by other speakers, is under active consideration by His Majesty's Government at the present moment. I think that would also have reassured the most reverend Primate had he been here to hear me say it.

Then there are 3,700 families who have been given temporary asylum by means of visas up to June 30. There are 700 agricultural trainees now in this country, and there are 1,400 industrial trainees; and so it goes on. I do not think that it is necessary for me to go right through the whole list of categories, but, as your Lordships know, the Richborough Camp, which is the responsibility of the Council for German Jewry, has already received 2,000 men, and authority has already been given for 400 more to go there. One other category I would like to mention in particular. Mention has been made of refugees as an investment. I think there is no better investment than intellectual accomplishment, and I am proud to be able to say that English scholars have played no mean part in taking charge of the German scholars and students who were forced out of their chairs or out of their professorships. I have no doubt at all that in that respect the intellectual strength of the country has been immensely fortified. Therefore, I do not think it can really be said, taking all the difficulties into consideration that either Poland or what are loosely called the Western Powers have anything really to reproach themselves with in regard to their first reactions to the solution of a problem that is not one of their making.

It is unfortunately true not merely that the problem was grave when it first started, but that it is not becoming any less grave as the years pass. Mention has been made of those additional refugees who came upon charity from Spain and I was particularly asked some questions by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about Spanish refugees. The first question was what was happening to Spanish refugees at Oran. The Treasury is considering the possibility of giving a grant of financial assistance for the payment of their emigration to Mexico. I was also asked what plans we had for those of the International Brigade who could not be repatriated. Well, the Germans and the Austrians of that Brigade have already been accepted by Sweden.


May I ask the noble Marquess how recently that offer has been officially made by the Swedish Government?


To tell the noble Earl the truth, I am not a spokesman really for the Foreign Office, and it was only because my advisers told me that it had been made that I made that statement. Finally I was asked what we could do for relief among refugees in the camps in France and North Africa. I would remind the noble Earl that we gave £100,000 to the International Commission for the assistance of refugees in Spain, and this sum has partly been spent to relieve the Spanish refugees in France and North Africa. Furthermore, as the noble Earl himself said, His Majesty's Government have given £50,000 to the British Red Cross for relief among men of military age in the camps in France. Therefore in that particular respect our efforts have not been negligible.

May I turn to another aspect, that is the aspect of the Czech refugees, who it has been suggested in the course of the debate have some special claim on our attention? It will be remembered that after the events of March 15 His Majesty's Government announced that we intended to continue to apply for the purpose for which it was originally intended the free gift to the Czech Government of £4,000,000 which under the Agreement of January, 1939, was to be used for the payment of the expenses of the emigration of refugees from the territories ceded by Czecho-Slovakia as defined in the White Paper issued at the time. It is obvious that the application of that Agreement in the circumstances now prevailing has given rise to very considerable difficulty. In any case the commitments of the fund for refugees who have already left Czecho-Slovakia are so heavy that the amount available for future immigration would, I regret to say, be limited. At the same time it must not be forgotten that the Government have contributed very largely to the possibility of large numbers of Czechs being able to emigrate. There again I feel that His Majesty's Government and the British people have nothing to be ashamed about. Of course I do feel that these matters are quite clearly palliative. I mention them because I think it is important we should not under-estimate what we have done in this matter, any more than we should over-estimate what we have done.

It is quite clear—here I agree with every speaker who has taken part in the debate—that we must in this matter plan not in terms of years but of decades. We must try to have a long-view policy in this matter, and it seems to me we must not merely bring into our plan countries with a settled administration and settled population who are able to absorb a certain proportion of these refugees, but we must apply our whole minds to the question of whether we can use those territories which have not been tapped either by private or by public funds. Infiltration is, of course, of the very greatest value. Thirty thousand a year are going to America, 5,000 a year for three years are going to Australia, 75,000 in five years are going to Palestine. At least 50,000 of those will certainly be refugees and a large proportion of the remaining 25,000 will in all probability be refugees. Those contributions, and many smaller ones, are clearly of the greatest importance. It is because the British Empire, as is sometimes forgotten, cannot shoulder this burden alone, that international action is of such tremendous importance. The two international bodies which are dealing with this matter are the High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations and the London Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees, which has as its Chairman the Paymaster-General, Lord Winterton, to whom I have already referred, while Mr. Myrom Taylor, representing the United States, Senator Bérenger, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Senate, and many other representatives of ambassadorial rank or of the rank of High Commissioner are members of it. I mention these facts in order to make clear the importance and influence of that Committee.

I cannot share the view expressed by my noble friend when he criticised that Committee and said that the work should never have been taken out of the hands of the League of Nations. I would remind him that that Committee is able to do two things that the League of Nations would not be able to do. In the first place, it is able to bring in the United States Government, which I think he will agree is of the highest importance; and secondly, through that Inter-Governmental Committee and through the fact that America is represented on that Committee, we are able to work in far closer co-operation in matters affecting refugees than we should have if it had not existed. Moreover, as Sir Herbert Emerson, who is the League Commissioner, is also the Director of the office of the Inter-Governmental Committee, the two organisations can work in the closest harmony together. That Committee, when you get down to it, has two functions to perform, and those are the functions upon which the success or failure of the solution of this emigration problem is going to depend.

The first function is obtaining conditions under which the refugees can leave their country of origin with a reasonable capital and reasonable equipment for the new life that they are taking up. I do not think that I need weary your Lordships with an account of the negotiations of Mr. Rublee, who was then the Director of the Inter-Governmental Committee, with the German Government. I would only say that I am sorry that, so far, the conditions that he eventually secured have not been implemented. The second function of this Committee to which we must all turn our minds is the question of permanent settlement: where are you going to put your refugees when you have got them out? Of course, if they have capital the problem is less hard to solve than if they have no capital, but sooner or later you have to decide where they are going to remain as permanent citizens.

It has been suggested by many speakers this evening that we could absorb many more of them into our population. I am the last to deny the virtues and the value that we should get from immigrants of the right type, but I must confess that I thought that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, under-estimated the danger of a growth of anti-Semitic feeling in this country if any very large increase of the Jewish population of this country were attempted by any Government. It is, of course, a matter of opinion; it is difficult to prove what one feels. But I have the strongest feeling that any very large increase in the Jewish population of this country would provoke an anti-Semitic feeling which I cannot disguise from myself is an underlying factor in England in common with almost every other country in the world. I would therefore urge on all those who have suggested that course the necessity for the greatest caution in advancing in that direction. It is not that I say for a moment that that course may not be the right one in the long run to pursue if cautiously pursued, but I would say that it is not one which I should care to see embarked upon rashly or at very great speed.

Then, if England is not to be the final place of refuge, we come to those other places, such as South America and British Guiana. We need not go into details of the possibility of settlement in those countries at this stage. I think the real argument underlying every speech that was made was not whether British Guiana could or could not be made a place where many thousands of Jews could settle, but rather whether or not the Government would put up the money to enable them to go to British Guiana or to South America or the rest. That, I think, was the fundamental question which was raised. And I can only reaffirm the policy which the Prime Minister clearly laid down, which is that whereas we are prepared to go to the very limit of our resources in supplying services and administration, and even transport, we do not feel justified at this stage in giving actual financial assistance to these schemes.

I think it is unnecessary for me to go into all the various points that have been raised during the course of the debate. As a matter of fact my rather general speech has probably covered most of them. For instance, I think that by implication I have answered Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I say that the policy of His Majesty's Government still remains the same as regards England as a country of asylum, and I for one should be very sorry indeed if ever we were to depart from it. We are adopting wherever possible as generous a policy as we can. The Ministry of Labour, for instance, has given or is giving special permission for Czech agricultural labourers to work where there is a proved shortage of English agricultural labourers. We are trying to give to all our regulations—which, after all, were carefully framed and devised to protect our own population—the most liberal interpretation possible; and equally we are determined that every aid that we can give for further settlement of the refugees in our Colonies or in South America or anywhere else in the world we will freely give. With that assurance I hope that my noble friend will agree that we have done all that can reasonably be expected of us at this stage in the very grave and drastic problem with which we have found ourselves so suddenly confronted.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I do not at this hour and with this audience propose to detain your Lordships for more than a moment, but there are one or two things that I want very much to say in reference to the very interesting speech to which we have just listened. I confess I felt a little depressed. First there was Lord Harlech, who told us that the day of large settlement was over; then there was my noble friend Lord Dufferin, who told us that there was great danger in infiltration. There does not seem to be much else. I do not say that for the purpose of making a debating point; I hope my noble friend will fully understand it is not that. I do feel that the problem is immensely difficult and that a great deal of what both noble Lords said is quite true; and yet, unless we do face it and find a solution, we are in the presence of a terrific human catastrophe. Therefore I very earnestly beseech the Government to set about making a definite plan.

The noble Marquess said that he was in favour of it, but he will forgive me for saying that I did not see much trace of a definite plan after that very encouraging statement. That is why I distrust, let me say it quite frankly, the Inter-Governmental Committee. The noble Marquess mentioned some of its members. I happen to know some of them, and nothing would surprise me more than to hear that they were going to make a definite plan on any subject. I am quite sure that the Inter-Governmental Committee will never do anything, because they will never like to commit their Governments to a definite proposition. Therefore I most heartily agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Lytton at the outset; that what was required was an expert committee, which no doubt would be drawn from all sorts of different nationalities, including, if necessary, the United States, for there is no difficulty in getting a United States expert to sit on such a committee. Let them meet and draft a definite plan to be worked towards in all activities. I am sure that unless that is done we shall never get far.

There is no such definite plan. Nobody knows what we are aiming at, or what we are doing. We make a little movement towards infiltration, and then inquire about the possibilities in British Guiana, but nothing comes of it. I therefore hope the Government will realise that the London Committee will never be able to do this particular piece of work and that there should be an expert committee to draw up a plan. I agree that it would be better to do it under the machinery of the League. As to the difficulty about the assistance of the United States, believe me that no longer exists. There is no longer that horror of Geneva which at one time paralysed assistance from the United States. I beg the Government to consider that aspect, because until you have a definite proposal which you can bring before each Government in turn, and ask them what they will do, I am very much afraid that none of the measures which are at present in operation are going to ward off the catastrophe which I see looming nearer and nearer to civilisation out of this refugee question.


My Lords, I think my Motion has served a useful purpose, because we have had a most interesting discussion. A significant fact is that every speaker who has taken part in it has supported my contention, that this refugee problem was one which was quite beyond the scope of private charity. The noble Marquess who replied for the Government will therefore hardly expect me to be entirely satisfied with his statement, that in spite of that opinion the Government were of opinion that public funds could not be devoted to the relief of refugees. I quite understand that the noble Marquess is not in a position to alter the policy of the Government as a result of a discussion in this House, but I do hope that the Government will take note of the unanimity of the opinion expressed in this House, an opinion which represents that of all the organisations, without exception, that are engaged in refugee work, to-day, and consider seriously making some change in their policy to meet that unanimous opinion. If that is done I shall feel that this discussion has served some purpose. I thank all your Lordships who have taken part in the discussion, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.