HL Deb 06 October 1942 vol 124 cc549-53

LORD PORTSEA rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is their policy to draw no distinction between Occupied or Unoccupied France and the Norman Islands with reference to letters and messages to the inhabitants of the Norman Islands. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will not detain yon for many moments. Although what I have to say is of very great importance to a few thousands of His Majesty's servants who are now serving in his Forces, it is a very dull subject compared with the two Motions which have preceded it, since it is largely, in fact entirely, a question of policy and the Post Office. Since the abandonment of the Norman Islands by the Government, the islanders, both in England and in their own homes, have had to rely on the good offices of the Red Cross for communicating between the islands and the mainland and the mainland and islands, with their children who, are serving, as I have said, in His Majesty's Forces, and with all their other relations. The efforts of the Red Cross are fully appreciated. The Red Cross has acted all through in a most sympathetic, courteous and generous manner within the very narrow limits imposed by the Government. But it would be absurd to say to your Lordships, or for anyone to think, that the one message of twenty-five words per month which is allowed to be sent from the islands is in any way sufficient or satisfactory. The one message from Guernsey per month takes on the average about three months in transmission and the reply takes the same time. The messages, of course, are in strange handwriting, and they are unsigned by the persons who send them.

Through some avenue that I have not explored, island news reaches us here from Vancouver—Vancouver in the far west of Canada, more than 6,000 miles away. News from Vancouver of the islands reaches us more quickly, and in greater volume, than we can get it through the Red Cross. Now that is a very curious anomaly, and I am asking that it should be remedied. I am asking the Government for some consideration for the news at our very door. The people of Southern Ireland are permitted by Mr. de Valera to send letters to Jersey and Guernsey through Unoccupied France. Our Government presumably do not wish to interfere with Mr. de Valera's arrangements. We have given him a great deal. We have given him our ports at a very terrible cost to ourselves in the hope of what was called appeasement. We would hardly pin-prick him now as regards his postal arrangements. Would we make a new law for Eire, for all the Americas, including South America, the United States of North America and Canada, for Sweden, for Turkey, for Spain, for Portugal, for all the neutral or friendly States in the world, and only punish and penalize those of our own blood? What is the explanation? It cannot be due, surely, to any dislike. Can it be due to ignorance? I hardly like to use that word, but I have in my hand proof of the fact that for nearly two years one Ministry under the Government treated the islanders as aliens and refugees. So it is that I am almost prompted to use the word "ignorance."

But if Mr. de Valera's Government permit the letters to go through to Unoccupied France must we interfere? It seems to me that there is no sufficient reason why we should do so. There seems no sufficient reason why one of the thousands of men who are now serving His Majesty should not be able to send a letter—very strictly censored, of course—to a friend in Eire, and why that friend in Eire should not be allowed to send a part or the whole of that letter to a relation, friend, parent or child of the writer in the islands, through France. It cannot be the deliberate design of the Government to punish the islands or the islanders—that would be too far-fetched and ridiculous to consider—more than they have been punished already. The poor deserted islanders have always given their best, and have always given their blood, for what they look on as their own country. It is only by letter, as opposed to a message, that the islanders here or on the islands can sign orders to the guardians of their children or to their bankers. A Red Cross message of 25 words, written by a stranger in a strange hand and not signed by the sender can have no effect, legal or otherwise, on a banker or guardian who, with the best will in the world, cannot accept messages sent in that way.

A few days ago, I wrote to a relative of mine in Eire and enclosed a postcard, stamped but not directed, with some information which I knew would be pleasing to her and pleasing to the people of Jersey if they could get it. My letter and the unaddressed postcard were returned to me, and a paper called "P.C. 149 (Revised)" was sent to me. It is full of mistakes and errors, and I suggest that it should be revised in favour of the islanders. It states that there is only one way in which one can write to the islands—on a prescribed reply form. That is not the case, because one can originate a message from this side. It says that letters or messages must not be sent except through the authorized intermediary, the Red Cross. I have full confidence in the Red Cross, and have received nothing but courtesy and sympathy from that body, but I have received information through Vancourver, which has nothing to do with the Red Cross, and I have had information sent from Southern Ireland by Mr. de Valera's Post Office, through France. No doubt the Minister knows that there are planes arriving in this country both from Unoccupied and Occupied France which provide alternative means of communication to the Red Cross.

I want to ask the Government whether they will reconsider the whole matter. The rules for the censors have, as I said, been revised; may not they be revised again out of consideration for a small people who have done and are doing their best, and who are giving their blood for their own country? Can nothing be done for them? What is the reason for the present cruelty shown to them? They are starving in every way; not only do they lack food, but they have never had a word of acknowledgment since the beginning of the war for all they have done. Is it not possible now for the Government to do something to relieve their torture? Is it not possible for the Government to inaugurate a more enlightened, patriotic, generous policy towards their own? Very little would satisfy them. I have asked for food. I am told that it cannot be sent, although I myself am ready to take it and have a ship ready to take me. I have asked for leaflets to be dropped on the islands, but that has been refused; it is said that leaflets could not be dropped, because some poor islander might be found with a leaflet in his possession and be shot out of hand. In the News Chronicle yesterday there is a description of how a copy of that paper was dropped in Guernsey and circulated throughout the island. The people there are not such fools as to be caught with a newspaper or a leaflet in their hands. We have sent a small quantity of insulin in answer to a vigorous appeal from the doctors, and they now again appeal on behalf of those invalids who require insulin to keep them alive. I have no evidence of any response to that appeal. I am not concerned so much with the old folk, but the children are starved of all suitable food such as makes a child into a healthy and vigorous adult.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Portsea, need not apologize for bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. With great persistence and enthusiasm, the noble Lord has done all that one man can do to remind your Lordships of the needs of the Channel Islands. In reply to what the noble Lord has said to-day, I beg to state that, under the Defence Regulations, it is an offence to communicate with persons in territory occupied by the enemy except through authorized intermediaries. So far as the wishes of His Majesty's Government are concerned, it would, of course, have been their desire that, subject to censorship, communication with the Channel Islands should be as frequent and as unfettered as possible; but obviously the matter does not depend upon the wishes of His Majesty's Government alone, but upon what the International Red Cross have been able to arrange with the German Government, who are not under any international obligation to allow facilities for communication with civilians who are at liberty, or to provide means of transport.

As the noble Lord is aware, the Red Cross scheme is limited to short messages, and it takes from three to five months to obtain a reply. The ordinary means of sending letters to territories occupied by the enemy, through Messrs. Thomas Cook, are not at present available for the Channel Islands or Occupied France, and letters sent to Messrs. Thomas Cook have been returned by the German authorities. His Majesty's Government have the greatest sympathy with those who have friends and relatives left in the Channel Islands, and will be only too anxious to do anything they can to enable those people to be kept regularly informed about the safety and welfare of their relatives and friends, but I am sure the noble Lord will realize the difficulties in the way of securing any improvement in the service under present conditions.


My Lords, it is an old refrain: Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love But—why did you kick me downstairs? That seems to describe the attitude of the Government. I ought to say that I was referring to Unoccupied France, not Occupied France under the heel of the Germans, because Frenchmen and others in Unoccupied France do have a certain liberty, at any rate as to postal arrangements. I am obliged to my noble friend for the compliment he paid me, but I would rather have had some more consideration for the Islands.