HL Deb 03 December 1941 vol 121 cc160-4

LORD PORTSEA had also given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether any attempt is being made or will be made to provide our people in Jersey and Guernsey with food, coal and some of the amenities of civilization while in the power of the enemy; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the second question standing in my name. Communications with the islands are, of course, very unsatisfactory. I heard yesterday from my nearest relative who, I am glad to say, remains in the island. The letter sent me is dated August 23. It was kept in the island until October 30 and reached me only yesterday. It is a very innocent letter, twenty words merely, to say that they are getting along, that all is comparatively well, and that they hope I am well. There is nothing in it to which the censors could possibly object; not even a superexcellent censor could object to it, but it has taken, your Lordships will see, nearly ten weeks to reach me from Jersey. Ten weeks is a long time, and much may have happened in that interval, but I have from another friend information which is more recent, though not much more recent, in which he says there is neither coal nor oil, and that food is very severely-rationed and very scarce. There are no, what we may call, luxuries. There is no coffee and there is no tea. They are roasting rose leaves and raspberry leaves, and are trying to believe that if these are sufficiently roasted they will be able to make coffee, but it requires a great deal of imagination to believe that coffee will be the result.

So far as I can see, there is no particular hope that food should reach them; at the same time I see no reason why it should not. I saw a letter in The Times some days age from a Belgian Minister, M. Gutt, who complained that, although 2,300 tens of food had been sent to Belgium, it worked out at only about one-seventh of an ounce for each Belgian. We would not mind that. If you sent 2,000 tons of food to Jersey and Guernsey we would not grumble about the amount. We would be glad that the Government had recognized their duty to our people in those islands. If my noble friend would lend us any old ship I would guarantee that that ship should get to Jersey and to Guernsey. I should be glad if my noble friend would look into that matter, if he has time, so that our people would not be absolutely starving—starving in hope, starving in body, starving in every way—but should be treated more as I think without doubt they deserve than they are now.


My Lords, I should like to support the appeal just made by the noble Lord. There is very great anxiety felt on the part of those who have friends and relations in the islands. I have some forty clergy in the islands who remained with their people when the German occupation came, and I know a large number of people in the islands. Our anxiety is partly due to the cause which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, the extreme difficulty of any kind of correspondence. I know the Red Cross are doing their best to meet matters and that very short messages can be sent. A large number of such messages have been received, none of them more than twenty words, but many people have written and have received no answer at all. I have written, I suppose, something like sixty or seventy letters—perfectly harmless messages—to the islands in the last year to different people I know there, but I have only received, I think, three replies. Ten weeks is a comparatively short time for a letter from the islands to take before it is received here.

There is great, almost desperate, anxiety or the part of many of the 30,000 evacuees—or rather under that number—who are now in Great Britain. Their anxiety is due to the fact that they know what the conditions were like when they left the islands. When they left the islands considerably over a year ago there was enough coal for a few months. They know that that coal must have been used by now and that there is practically no wood in the islands—a few orchards, a few woods here and there, some avenues, but quite an insignificant quantity of wood. They know also that in the country districts people are dependent for lighting on candles and paraffin. They know that there were limited supplies of both. It is quite true that in the towns there are electricity and gas, but in the country districts—and most of these people live in the country—they are solely dependent for light on candles and paraffin oil. Most serious of all, when the people left the islands just before the Germans came in they knew there was sufficient food for several months, sufficient food to carry them through last winter, but they are gravely doubtful as to what the position is to-day. People who are in England and have their friends and relations in the islands picture them in the country districts in darkness, suffering from the cold and suffering seriously from shortage of food. This must mean both physical weakness and mental depression.

So we do urge the Government to see if anything can be done in the way of sending supplies of food. We understand that has been done elsewhere, and it may be possible to do it in the case of the Channel Islands. I recognize that the difficulties are very great indeed. Such supplies can only be sent with the sanction of the Germans, and if such supplies are sent it is obvious that steps must be taken to see that they go to the people who need them and are not used to relieve the Germans. There are very great difficulties indeed, and we quite recognize how serious those difficulties are, but I am sure those of us who have friends and relations in the islands would be very greatly relieved if we felt sure that the Government, who are, I am certain, deeply concerned about the matter, are exploring every possibility of sending help to these people who, for centuries, have been most loyal subjects of the Crown.


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend who put down this question and the right reverend Prelate that the Government are at one with them in the desire to do everything that can possibly be done to assist our fellow countrymen in the Channel Islands. The question of what can be done to improve their position is one to which my right honourable friend and the Government have given, are giving, and will give the most earnest attention. But in so far as my noble friend has in mind an arrangement to enable parcels of food or other commodities to be sent from this country to persons in the Channel Islands, I am afraid there are immense difficulties in the way. The Government regret that at present they cannot hold out any hope. It may possibly be that the position may change in the future, but for the present, at any rate, I can hold out no hope that any such arrangement will become practicable. If that is the position in regard to food, it will be obvious to my noble friend that the difficulty of sending bulky commodities, such as coal, presents even greater difficulties. I am sorry to have to give such a discouraging reply to my noble friend, but I can assure him that the Government are most earnestly considering this question. They are fully alive to the great hardships which our fellow-countrymen in the Channel Islands are suffering and they will do anything that can be done to improve their lot.


My Lords, I quite understand—no one better, perhaps—the difficulties of sending food' to the islands, but the Turk is able to send shiploads to the Greek, his hereditary enemy, whose country is now in the occupation of the Germans and Italians. If he is allowed to send ships to Greece, and if Portugal is allowed to send ships to Belgium, the difficulties do not seem to me to be insuperable. We should be able to send some assistance to these islands. I would remind your Lordships that every ounce of food, and everything else for the matter of that, is sent to the island. There are no sheep in the islands, there are no oxen; no animal of the bovine tribe is allowed to be landed. Of course, we can do without coffee, tea and tobacco—I am a smoker myself—which one may call luxuries, but we cannot do without food and oil. Surely something could be done. The risk is great, but I am a bit of a sailor and I would very gladly take a ship across the Channel, if the Government would give the ship, beach her if necessary in jersey or Guernsey, and trust to the decency of the Germans, even if they took half the cargo.

To those of us who are living here in comfort, great comfort, it is sad to think of the position of these islanders, who are suffering, through no fault of their own—remember that, my Lords. They have had freedom for more than a thousand years, and they have always defended themselves, although they had a very strong and great foe in France. They have always maintained their independence and their loyalty to the Crown. Now, not only do we abandon them, but we take away their arms and munitions and do not allow them to defend themselves, and we cannot apparently send them an ounce of food. It seems to me that this is a state of affairs which, if it were understood, would lead to something being done, something to relieve these poor people who are suffering, as I say, from no fault of theirs. I am much obliged to the noble Duke for his answer and I am also very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his assistance—the value of which I know full well, and appreciate—in this matter of the islands It is a crying matter; a shameful matter. These people stayed in their own homes, loyal to their King, and now they are to be starved. It is a dreadful thought, and one which must fill every honest man with a feeling, if not of shame, of very, very deep regret. As I have said, I beg to thank the noble Duke for his answer and I ask to be allowed to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.