HL Deb 23 March 1943 vol 126 cc811-60

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY had the following Resolution on the Paper: To move to resolve, That, in view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, this House desires to assure His Majesty's Government of its fullest support for immediate measures, on the largest and most generous scale compatible with the requirements of military operations and security, for providing help and temporary asylum to persons in danger of massacre who are able to leave enemy and enemy-occupied countries.

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Resolution standing in my name on the Order Paper. We are confronted, as all your Lordships know, with an evil the magnitude and horror of which it is impossible to describe in words. There has, I suppose, never been so great a manifestation of the power of sheer cruelty and of the determination to wreak upon a helpless people what is not vengeance, for there is no offence, but the satisfaction of a mere delight in power such as is to be witnessed on the continent of Europe at the present time. We are wisely advised not to limit our attention in this connexion to the sufferers of any one race, and we must remember that there are citizens of many countries who are subject to just the same kind of monstrous persecution, and even massacre. None the less, there has been a concentration of this fury against the Jews, and it is inevitable that we should give special attention to what is being carried through, and still further plotted against them.

We know that Hitler near the beginning of the war declared that this war must lead to the extermination of either the Jewish or the German people, and it should not be the Germans. He is now putting that threat into effect, and no doubt we are to a very large extent at present powerless to stop him. We are told that the only real solution is rapid victory. No doubt it is true that if we could win the war in the course of a few weeks we could still deliver multitudes of those who are now doomed to death. But we dare not look for such a result, and we know that what we can do will be but little in comparison with the need. My whole plea on behalf of those for whom I am speaking is that whether what we do be large or little it should at least be all we can do.

I do not think I need try to kindle your Lordships' imaginations afresh with a picture of what is going on, but perhaps it is worth while to recall some of the more recent reports that have reached us. Many of us heard the announcement from the B.B.C. a little while ago in the News that a decree has now been published in the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia which has the effect of sentencing all the Jews there to death by starvation. Their ration cards are to be taken from them, and they are forbidden to buy unrationed food. The Nazis have ordered that all Jews must be cleared out of Moravia by the end of next month, and by the same date there must be none in Berlin. The deportation of Jews from Germany is going on at an increasing rate, and most of them die in concentration camps and ghettos.

These reports have just reached the World Jewish Congress regarding Poland: In one district alone 6,000 are being killed daily. Before they die they are stripped of their clothes which are gent back to Germany. Not a single Jew is left in the great Ghetto of Warsaw where, before the mass murders began there were 430,000. We cannot say that all these have certainly been killed. Some may be employed on forced labour behind the Eastern German front, but most of them are probably, by now, dead. Again: All the Jews now remaining in Bulgaria are living in daily dread of being sent to Poland, a fear which has been accentuated by the pronouncement of a member of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs that it was eventually intended to outlaw every Jew in the country.

I have myself lately received this information through the Board of Deputies of British Jews: A message has been received from a Jewish member of the National Council of Poland who writes: 'Yesterday I received via Istanbul news from responsible sources about the situation of the Jews in Poland. The news relates to the beginning of February. The informants say—the information comes straight from Poland—that during January a new slaughter of Jews in Warsaw took place. The Jews defended themselves actively; over fifty Germans were killed. After this heroic defence a new slaughter of Jews followed. Over 5,000 were immediately deported. The complete extermination of the ghettos in Poland is going on. In accordance with this information only about one-quarter million Jews remain in Poland.' And this comes from Stockholm: The Rumanian Government has agreed with the Germans to send 20,000 Jews from Bucharest and 40,000 Jews from other towns to Poland in the spring. There is a report—this is probably not quite so reliable—from Zurich as follows: Four concentration camps have been set up in Bulgaria for 'unreliable Jews,' according to an announcement in the Bulgarian Parliament by the Minister of the Interior, quoted by the German radio. The 'worst Jews,' the Minister added, 'will probably be sent to ghettos in Poland. This cable has just been received by the World Jewish Congress in this country: During the 26th February and 2nd March, 15,000 Jews of Berlin were detained and in day-time sent away in lorries to camps. S.S. officers, who are the initiators of this detention, have determined to make Berlin free of Jews by the 15th March. Rabbi Bach, the President of the Reichsverband Deutscher Juden, has been deported to Terezin. In January deportations from Holland reached the number of 17,000. The extermination action is reaching its peak. I am sure there can be no need for me to continue the description of the horror. I believe that part of our difficulty in arousing ourselves and our fellow-countrymen to the degree of indignation that it would seem to merit is the fact that the imagination recoils before it. It is impossible to hold such things at all before the mind. But we are all agreed in this House on the main purpose of this Motion, to offer our utmost support to the Government in all they can do; but with all sympathy for members of His Majesty's Government, I am sure they will forgive some of us who wonder whether quite everything possible has really already been done. We remember the solemn statement of the United Nations made public on December 17, and it is inevitable that we should contrast the solemnity of the words then used, and the reception accorded to them, with the very meagre action that has actually followed. Of course, the difficulties are extremely great. We ought, in any words of criticism that we utter, to have the utmost sympathy for the Government in their task of administration, but we wish to offer our support not merely to show that it may be relied upon—for the Government I am sure know that—but also as a spur to greater rapidity to action if it may be possible. It is the delays in the whole matter while these horrors go on daily that make some of us wonder whether it may not be possible to speed things up a little.

One must admit that some of the arguments hitherto advanced as justifying the comparative inaction seem quite disproportionate to the scale of the evil confronting us. They are real in themselves, but they are the kind of thing that many of us feel should really be brushed aside if only we have before our minds the situation with which we are trying to deal. If I may allude to an event which took place before the German occupation of Vichy France, some of us went to see the Home Secretary with reference to the deliverance from France of those Jews destined for deportation to Germany. Obviously the urgency of the problem then was rather less acute than it has become since, and it did seem to many of us at that time it was hardly possible that anyone who had before his mind the facts with which we were dealing, would have thought it appropriate to give as reasons for no further action the kind of facts that were then set before us. We were given, for example, a very full statement of the great part that has been taken by this country and other countries of the British Empire in the relief of refugees and the reception of them into our country. That, of course, would be relevant if the people in the other lands were suffering great discomfort or great privation, but when what you are confronted with is wholesale massacre, it seemed to most of us not only irrelevant, but grotesquely irrelevant.

We come to the question: Is there anything that can in fact be done? We were much encouraged by the promise that was given by His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies on February 3 with regard to the admission of Jews, both children and adults, to Palestine. Your Lordships will remember that he said that Bulgaria has agreed to let go, and Palestine to admit, 4,000 Jewish children and 500 accompanying adults, also that up to 500 children from Hungary and Rumania would be admitted and that the 270 previously arranged for were already on their way. Further admissions to Palestine would take place later up to the permitted maximum of 29,000 available out of the four years immigration quota for Palestine. That was on February 3. On February 24 he was obliged to say that no movement of these persons had yet taken place. That was three weeks later. Once again we know there are great difficulties about shipping and the like, and we quite recognize that some delay is inevitable; but three weeks struck some of us as a long time in which nothing at all should take place, and we are most anxious to hear to-day whether anything has taken place since then.

So, first, I would put the plea that action should be taken as promptly as possible to carry out the promise given by the Colonial Secretary. Secondly, I would urge that we should revise the scheme of visas for entry into this country. Surely we might at least agree to admit to this country all those who are able to get here—they would not be very many—who have husbands, wives or sons already here, and especially those who have sons actually serving in our Forces. The probability of their being dangerous or unreliable is so slight that we may surely neglect it. But there have been cases where precisely that kind of applicant has been refused. I have instances here of some of these, as it seems to us, unduly hard cases. A Jewish couple, who escaped into Spain and were interned, have four sons in our Armed Forces, able and anxious to maintain them. Visas were refused them. The case was strongly pressed by the refugee organization concerned. There are several similar cases with one or more sons or brothers in the British Forces. The sons were recently told that they might shortly be sent overseas, and they longed to know that their parents were safe from a possible German invasion of Spain. Again a high official in the French Fighting Forces applied for visas for a Jewish family who had escaped from France into Portugal. Visas were granted for the two sons to join the French Forces but refused for their parents, though the French officials strongly pressed for them.

Again, a Counsellor in the Polish Government applied three months ago for a visa for a Polish Jew in a concentration camp in Spain, and, though the case apparently comes strictly within the regulations for visas, received a discouraging reply. The man is of military age and a qualified doctor of medicine who had previously applied to join the Forces in France. His aged parents and sister in this country were able to guarantee maintenance. Consideration of this was promised, but it is now many weeks since the promise was made and there is still no reply.

One more of the cases from enemy-occupied territory: A Czech Jewess, in hiding in Hungary, has her husband, son and daughter all in England; also a nephew and a friend in an influential position in Switzerland. The daughter in England was told by her Swiss friends that the Swiss authorities would give entry if a United Kingdom visa was obtained and notified to the British Consul at Zurich. The whereabouts of the woman in Hungary were known to these friends who believed they could make contact with her if visas for another country were secured. The British visa was refused late in 1942. I have other instances here, but it would perhaps be wearying your Lordships to go on describing them. I do not know what are the grounds given for the refusal in most of these cases, except that they do not fall for the most part within certain categories which have been drawn up to regulate the administration of German refugees. But these categories are not like the categories in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason a necessity of human thought, and it is quite possible to revise them; it would seem to many of us that in face of the evil now confronting us it is most urgently necessary that they should be revised.

But it is very doubtful whether more than a trifle could be done, except the avoidance of causing fearful pain to persons already in very bitter distress, so long as the administration from this country is limited to the handling of individuals. And so we want to suggest the granting of blocks of visas to the Consuls in Spain and Portugal and perhaps in Turkey to be used at their discretion. We know of course that the German Government will not give exit permits. What matters is that we should open our doors irrespective of the question whether the German door is open or shut, so that all who can may come. If nothing results then at least we shall not be to blame. We can trust the discretion of our own agents in these neutral countries to allow only those who could safely be permitted to pass through to our own shores to do so, and it is of the greatest importance to give relief to those neutral countries because there is at present a steady stream, or perhaps more accurately a steady trickle of refugees from France both into Spain and into Switzerland. The numbers that those countries, already suffering a good deal in shortage of food and with their standard of life so far below our own, will be able to receive are of course limited. If we can open the door at the other side and bring away from Spain and Portgual and (if the transport is available but probably it would not be) from Switzerland and also from Turkey those who are able to make their escape there, we shall render it far more probable that the channels through which that trickle percolates will not be blocked.

If I understand the matter rightly, the main roads and the railways are closed, but the paths of the hills in the Pyrenees are not; therefore this trickle goes steadily on, the Spanish authorities no doubt knowing of it but not thinking it sufficiently serious, or perhaps not having the desire to check it. Anyhow there it is. We can hardly expect it will last much longer unless we are willing that the door should be open at the other end and that some at least of those who go into the neutral countries and pass through them should come on to our own country, or to the territories of the British Empire or of the Allied Nations so far as they will agree. Then, once more, it is urged, that we should offer help to European neutrals, to encourage them to admit new refugees, in the form of guarantees from the United Nations, to relieve them of a stipulated proportion of refugees after victory, or, if possible, sooner; that we should offer gifts of or facilities for obtaining food, clothing, petrol, navicerts and the like for these neutral countries, and also that we should offer direct financial aid. I should like to ask if information can be given whether any of these States have indicated a willingness to receive more refugees if such help is available. These are some of the practical ways by which we urge that steps should really be taken at least to relieve this situation. It is fully understood that shipping difficulties are very great, but would it be possible perhaps to charter a few ships from neutral countries to act as ferry boats between ports of evacuation and ports of refuge? And could not ships that cross the Atlantic this way with troops, food, munitions and so forth, take back refugees to some ports on the American side within the British Empire or, if the United States would agree, also to their own ports?

There is one point I would raise more tentatively, but it has been responsibly put forward and I think it ought to be seriously considered, though I cannot urge it with the same confidence. It is that through some neutral Power an offer should directly be made to the German Government to receive Jews in territories of the British Empire and, so far as they agree, of the other Allied Nations on a scheme of so many each month. Very likely it would be refused, and then Hitler's guilt would stand out all the more evidently. If the offer were accepted there would of course be difficulties enough, but it would be the business of the Germans to overcome these so far as concerns the conveyance of the refugees to the ports, and efforts could be made to secure help from Sweden and other neutral countries for shipping from the ports. It would not relieve the German Government of any feeding problem, for Hitler is scarcely feeding the Jews now. It would do next to nothing in the way of benefiting him. Some of us have wondered how far the possibility has been considered of receiving any considerable number, particularly of children, in Eire and whether the Government of Eire have been consulted about this. I wish to repeat that I do not urge this proposal of a direct offer to the German Government with at all the same confidence I had in putting forward the other propositions. I can see general grounds on which it might be undesirable, and these must be very carefully watched, but I do think that it deserves very careful consideration and should not be turned down merely on the ground that we will have nothing to do with these barbarians.

It is said that there is danger of an Anti-Semitic feeling in this country. No doubt that feeling exists in some degree, and no doubt it could very easily be fanned into flame, but I am quite sure it exists at present only in comparatively small patches. It is very vocal when it exists at all, and therefore it receives a degree of attention beyond what it deserves. But if the Government were to decide that it was wise and practicable to put in action any of the proposals that I have laid before your Lordships, it would be very easy for the Government, by skilful use of the wireless, to win the sympathy and confidence of the people for their proposals, especially if a large number of those who were brought out were children and were being delivered from almost certain death. Then there is the question whether it would too seriously affect the feeding of our own people. I can only say that we are being at this time so wonderfully fed that we could well go without a little of our present convenience in that matter, and I believe the people would be most ready to do it if they knew it was required to free these people not from discomfort, not from any of the ordinary forms of persecution, but from massacre and the threat of it hanging over them during the few more weeks they might live.

The whole matter is so big and other claims are so urgent that we want further to make the proposition that there shall be appointed someone of high standing for whom this should be a primary responsibility. If we speak with impatience of what has been done or has not been done it is not, as I have tried already to show, from any lack of sympathy with the Government in the immense complexity of the tasks that they are carrying through, but just because of that complexity it seems to us more than can reasonably be asked of human beings that they should alongside of other responsibilities also undertake this on our behalf. For this reason I suggest appointing someone who should have real authority in the matter and should feel responsibility for this matter alone. So it is urged that there should be appointed someone of high standing, either within the Government or, if not that, from the Civil Service, to make it his first concern, and if the United Nations are ready to act together they should appoint a High Commissioner or else instruct the High Commissioner for Refugees, already active under the League of Nations, who has at present only limited authority in relation to the Jews for whom we are seeking relief at present.

My chief protest is against procrastination of any kind. It was three months ago that the solemn declaration of the United Nations was made and now we are confronted with a proposal for an exploratory Conference at Ottawa. That sounds as if it involves much more delay. It took five weeks from December 17 for our Government to approach the United States, and then six weeks for the Government of the United States to reply, and when they did reply they suggested a meeting of representatives of the Government for preliminary exploration. The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days, but there is a proposal for a preliminary exploration to be made with a view to referring the whole matter after that to the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. My Lords, let us at least urge that when that Conference meets it should meet not only for exploration but for decision. We know that what we can do is small compared with the magnitude of the problem, but we cannot rest so long as there is any sense among us that we are not doing all that might be done. We have discussed the matter on the footing that we are not responsible for this great evil, that the burden lies on others, but it is always true that the obligations of decent men are decided for them by contingencies which they did not themselves create and very largely by the action of wicked men. The priest and the Levite in the parable were not in the least responsible for the traveller's wounds as he lay there by the roadside and no doubt they had many other pressing things to attend to, but they stand as the picture of those who are condemned for neglecting the opportunity of showing mercy. We at this moment have upon us a tremendous responsibility. We stand at the bar of history, of humanity and of God. I beg leave to move.

Moved to resolve, That, in view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, this House desires to assure His Majesty's Government of its fullest sup-port for immediate measures, on the Largest and most generous scale compatible with the requirements of military operations and security, for providing help and temporary asylum to persons in danger of massacre who are able to leave enemy and enemy-occupied countries.—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


My Lords, on behalf of those with whom I am associated I should like to give our sincere support to the moving and eloquent speech to which we have just listened. I do not propose in view of the large number of speakers to detain you for more than a few minutes. It is unnecessary and would be almost impertinent, in view of the recital to which we have just listened, to say anything to remind ourselves again of the magnitude of this horror and of the determination with which it is ruthlessly pursued. It is true that we feel almost hopeless in facing the situation, but I cannot help feeling that regarding some of the very practical suggestions the most reverend Primate has made there lies a degree of inaction which is not deliberate but which is just consequential upon the fact that the Ministers concerned have so many other things to do. One has heard of a good many cases similar to those mentioned by the most reverend Primate in which, for reasons which in face of the magnitude of the horror seem trifling, people have been refused entry to this country. I cannot but think that in this great matter there are deeper considerations. This is a big national and indeed world responsibility. Upon us depend these poor people so far as they can be got out, and it is disconcerting to hear of the long delays that have occurred in the different stages of dealing—so far exceedingly ineffectively—with what we can do.

I would like to reinforce pleas which have been put forward. The first is that His Majesty's Government should use their utmost efforts promptly to secure the appointment of a body of persons authorized to act in this matter on behalf of the United Nations, so far as they can possibly get agreement to that end. I feel that while we blame ourselves—quite rightly perhaps—for what we cannot do, it is a responsibility which rests upon the United Nations, and somehow, when one has heard of the difficulties that have been presented about the admission of this person or this body of persons to this country, or of the smallness of the contribution that has been received, or can be received, into Palestine, one cannot help looking at the map sometimes and thinking that there must be lots of big places, other than those, in the wide world to which some of these poor people can be directed. I do not like to mention territories or places. It would be for those concerned to negotiate with those affected, but there are two or three or more areas in the world, which are present in one's mind all the time, to which these poor refugees might be directed, and where they might be assisted.

It calls for united effort, and I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to tell us that amongst other matters which the Foreign Secretary has had in his mind, while in Washington, this has been included. It will only be, I am sure, by an effective lead culminating in the appointment of a person or a body of persons authorized to act and get on with the job that we shall ever redeem our self-respect in this matter. After all, with regard to these people, so far as they can be liber- ated, we shall be shamed in history if it can truly be said hereafter that there was no room for them in the world of the nations who are now fighting for freedom.


My Lords, I feel some diffidence, on personal grounds, in intervening in this debate, and, indeed, I had intended to refrain from doing so. But my noble friends on these Benches, in the absence, through illness, of the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, have pressed me to speak on their behalf and to express the feelings, the strong feelings, of horror and indignation which they entertain regarding the events which have occurred, and their full support of the Motion which the most reverend Primate has brought before the House. I would, in the first place, thank the most reverend Primate for his intervention and for his speech. It is not surprising that he should have thought it incumbent upon him as the head of the Church of England, the greatest religious organization in this country, to express those feelings of horror and sympathy, and that will for action which must fill the mind of every man of religious faith.

Your Lordships will remember that when the declaration of the United Nations was made on December 17 last, it created a profound impression both in this House and in the House of Commons. That declaration exposed to the world terrible facts, it denounced the crimes, it held up the perpetrators to the scorn and anger of contemporaries and to the stern censure of history. But the only positive action that it proposed was retribution—penalties and punishments for the perpetrators. And at that moment nothing more could have been expected, for it was not possible to improvise a broad positive policy and to ensure the assent to it, in a few days, of many Governments with varied ideas and varied interests. For my own part, I confess that I feel no special interest in this question of penalties and punishments. I am very much more concerned with the problems of relief and rescue. The declaration of the United Nations was made on December 17. To-day is March 23, and so far as is publicly known, nothing has happened except discussion, conferences and exchanges of Notes. We are glad to learn that measures are afoot for securing close co-operation between this country and the United States. But there seems to be a great danger that action is liable to be lost in the sands of diplomatic negotiations, and, as the most reverend Primate has said, all that is now proposed by the Government of the United States, after long delay, is that there should be a preliminary exploration of ways and means, this, to be undertaken informally, not as a precedent to immediate action, but as a preliminary to the reference of the whole matter to an Inter-Governmental Committee.

While Governments prepare memoranda and exchange Notes and hold conferences, week after week and month after month, the Nazis go on killing men, women and children. We speak in statistics. I hold in my hand a letter which I have received from an elderly Czech lady, unknown to me, a resident of this country, which may help us to translate these statistics into terms of human life. She wrote to me quite recently and this is what she said: I am a woman nearing the sixties, a naturalized subject of Great Britain, and I have lived here for a considerable number of years. My nearest relatives lived in Czechoslovakia and in Vienna. My brother, when nearing seventy-four years of age and still very ill after an operation, was deported with his wife from Czechoslovakia. Both had had a very distinguished position in the town of their residence. Within three weeks after deportation he was dead, and his wife died a few days after. Their nephew had been murdered in a concentration camp in Germany. Relatives of very long residence in Czechoslovakia were deported; nothing is known of others. Various cousins were deported in 1942 from Prague, Vienna, etc. The greatest blow came when I knew that in October my three sisters, together with cousins and their daughters, were deported; the eldest sister, a woman of seventy-four, dragged from her bed; she was partly paralysed; the others nearing seventy and sixty-four respectively, both frail although doing useful work to the last …. The protests, whilst so impressive, do not seem to have stopped the murders at all. The, threats of retribution on murderers and their gangs seem quite inadequate. What action is to be taken to deal with events such as these?

The most reverend Primate has made a number of quite definite suggestions. I support them all. I do not propose to take up time by repeating the suggestions and commenting upon each in turn. They constitute a programme of definite, practical action, which could well be put into effect with no delay whatever. I should like to mention, however, just two of these proposals. One relates to Palestine. I was "here a year ago, and found the country alive with activity, agricultural and industrial, the various industries lending to the British war effort and to the British authorities, military and civil, invaluable help. The difficulty with which the country was faced was a shortage of labour. Since the Hitler persecution began, ten years ago, some 80,000 Jewish refugees have come from Central Europe and have found a home and occupation and a livelihood in Palestine. If political conditions allowed, a very much larger number could be absorbed at the present time, without detriment to the Arab population, and indeed with great advantage to the Arab population. Just as the immigration of Jews into Palestine since the last war has resulted in an equal increase in the number of Arabs in Palestine, and in a most remarkable rise in their standards of comfort and of culture, so such a fresh influx would add to the permanent prosperity of the country as a whole.

The other point to which I should like to refer is the assistance which might be given to those who succeed in escaping from this persecution. We have asked our Allies, the Dominions, the Colonies, and the neutrals, or we are proposing to ask them, what they can do. After all, there still remain Spain, Portugal, Sweden Switzerland and Turkey, as islands of freedom in a submerged and enslaved Europe, and across their frontiers there may infiltrate a certain number of refugees from these atrocities. But, not unnaturally, when we approach them they will reply to the British Government: "What are you doing yourselves?" That is the second point to which I wish to direct the attention of your Lordships. The numbers concerned, as the most reverend Primate has said, must inevitably be small; few can escape. Questions of transport, we know, are very difficult. So small is the number that it seems monstrous to refer to difficulties of food-supply, in this country of nearly 50,000,000 people, or to difficulties of employment, when we know that here also there is a shortage of labour. That there may be a danger of enemy agents mixing with these refugees and coming to this country is possible, but they could be sent, in any case of possible doubt, to the camps in the Isle of Man until the facts can be fully ascertained.

There is still in this country, however, a rigid refusal to grant visas for any persons who are still in enemy-occupied territory. I have had two or three cases sent to me of people who are well vouched for and of unexceptionable reputation, who are well known in their own countries, and who could be enabled by their friends to escape to Sweden, to Spain or to Switzerland if only it were known that they would afterwards be allowed to proceed to this country or to America, but in whose cases in each instance visas have been definitely refused, on the grounds of the general principle that that is the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is said that it would be of no assistance if those visas were granted. I am convinced that that is not so, and all who are best informed in regard to these matters also believe that that is not so. If this rule could be relaxed, some hundreds, and possibly a few thousands, might be enabled to escape from this holocaust. Those who have been in touch with this matter even more closely than I have tell me that the Home Secretary is very obdurate. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will be able to tell us whether any relaxation of any kind whatsoever has been made, or is contemplated, in the very rigid rule with regard to admission to this country. To maintain a rule unyieldingly when circumstances have changed in an important particular is not a sign of strength in a Government or in a Minister; it is often an act of weakness, the weakness of fearing to appear weak.


I did not quite catch in what respect the situation has changed.


The situation has changed as a result of these terrible events in Europe. It is not merely a question of enabling people to come to this country to improve their position, or to relieve themselves from disabilities. It is a question of people who are fleeing from murder, who are fleeing from men who have swords and torches in their hands, and who are killing and burning. When they come to your door, are you to slam the door in their faces? That is what I mean when I say that the situation has changed, and that is why I say that the Government should modify their rule. The Government say, of course, that public opinion in this country must be considered; they say that there is floating about in this country a certain amount of Anti-Semitic prejudice, and that to make any change might crystallize it and stir it up into formidable opposition. Possibly that might be so if it were a question of a hundred thousand or a million refugees, but in any case it would not be more than a few thousands at the most who would succeed in making their way here.

However, let me be frank. I know quite well that what is in the mind of many people in this country is an Anti-Jewish prejudice largely due to Black Market offences. It is not surprising that that feeling should be rife in many quarters. I have felt deeply concerned myself on account of the reports of cases which I have read in the Press. I have ascertained, however, that these reports are not typical of the real situation. When the offender is, as sometimes happens, a person with a foreign name, and especially with a Jewish name, the Press is very likely to report the matter somewhat fully. I had my attention drawn to an important trade journal, circulating throughout the country, in a trade in which a certain amount of Jewish enterprise is engaged, and in which is given week by week a report of these cases. In the week ending January 30, there were forty-two prosecutions in such cases by the Board of Trade, and in nine of them Jewish people were concerned. This paper reported three cases, two of which were Jewish. In the week ending February 20 there were thirty-four cases, of which six were Jewish; four cases were reported, all of them Jewish; none of the other twenty-eight was mentioned. I do not suggest that that is characteristic of the whole of the Press; the great news papers are undiscriminating and impartial; but the fact is that the reports in the Press do not indicate the true situation, and that while it is true that in some instances in which there are a very large number of Jewish traders the number of Jewish cases is considerable, on the whole there is probably no reason to think that the number of offenders in the Jewish community is statistically larger than that in the nation as a whole. We do not know precisely what the facts are, but at all events the indications are in that direction.

And there is a public opinion on the other side, of which there are many expressions—a public opinion which recognizes the value of many of those refugees who have come here, scholars and scientists, some of them men the most illustrious of our time, who have been welcomed at our universities and have enriched their intellectual wealth, and who have strengthened every branch of our cultural life. On the economic side, just as in previous centuries the Flemings and the Huguenots brought to this country industries of the utmost value to this country, so in these days many of these refugees from Germany and Austria have brought here new trades previously unknown which before the war, when the needs of employment were acute, gave employment to British working people to a far greater number than the number of the refugees themselves. And of course the Jewish community in this country bears its full share of the war effort, both at home and abroad. I may be pardoned for mentioning that in the last war this tiny fraction of the population gained no fewer than six Victoria Crosses, and the other awards for gallantry were in proportion to their numbers. Let me remind your Lordships of the famous words of Macaulay: Let us not presume to say that there is no genius among the countrymen of Isaiah, no heroism among the descendants of the Maccabees.


My Lords, as one recently appointed to be Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland I have been asked to attend this debate and to offer support as fully as we can to the most reverend Primate who made such an eloquent speech to-day. I do this willingly, and not only so but I will go further and say that in the few words I shall utter to-day I shall speak for all the members of the Free Churches in Scotland. In a previous debate I made a passing remark that on an occasion like this when we would wish that the views going forth from your Lordships' House should represent the combined view of all those professing the Christian faith, those of us who belong to other Churches than the Church of England are at a great disadvantage. Members of the Church of England are represented in your Lordships' House by their leaders and office holders, men of high position, of great eloquence and great experience, but we of the other Churches have to take pot luck for our representation. We have to take our haphazard chance and find some Peers in London who happen to be able to attend to re- present our view. That is most unfortunate, and it is not right. We talk in these days of planning for this and planning for that, and most of the planning is as regards material benefit and social welfare, but it would be refreshing to hear a little about planning for a great spiritual unity in this House. We may not be able to have uniformity in our ways of worship, but we can at least have unity in speech when we meet to discuss important questions of religion such as this. We would like to feel that the views go forth from this House not merely as the views of the Church of England but as the views of all those who profess the Christian faith in the British Isles.

In supporting the plea for Jewry so eloquently made by the most reverend Primate I may say that the policy of "Let Judah perish!" never was a policy supported by the people of Scotland. We in our past history have experienced all the vicissitudes of religious persecution and we have known all the unhappiness that such persecution brings in its train. So years ago we abolished the idea of persecution and gave religious toleration, and we hope that persecution will never be restored. It is not merely a question of persecuting Jews, but it is a national question of most vital importance, for, though it is a question of the persecution of the Jews to-day, it may be the Hindus to-morrow, the Moslems another day—and who knows next? In the matter of religious persecution for conscience' sake, we Christians must take our stand firmly, and now at the present moment. I cannot remember who it was, but years ago a statesman said in Parliament that the man who initiated religious persecution was immortally above all mortals damned. That is the position of Hitler to-day; he is immortally above all mortals damned for persecuting people for conscience' sake. But I am afraid this persecution going on in Germany and in the satellite countries under Hitler's rule is not the only religious persecution we have known of in history. There have been many persecutions in the past. But I think of all the persecutions, for atrocity there is none in this century or the last equal to the present one.

There is one lesson which stands out prominently from all the religious persecutions in history, and that is that a nation by itself can do very little to put a physical stop to cruelties and persecution because a nation working by itself, unless it gets inside the enemy lines, suffers a kind of diplomatic paralysis. The persecution of a people in time of war needs a concert of nations to stop it, and what we must do after this war is to try and get together from our Allies and all the people who support them concerted action to prevent any repetition of this religious persecution in the future. I need not say more, except that on behalf of the Christian people of Scotland I strongly support the plea put forward by the most reverend Primate.


My Lords, I too am a Scotsman, and I cannot refrain on this occasion from paying a tribute to the very lofty sentiments expressed by the noble Duke. After listening to the eloquent and moving speeches made by the most reverend Primate and by the noble Lords who have spoken, I do not intend to touch on this unprecedented persecution which the Jews have undergone and are undergoing in the countries under Nazi domination. I could indeed add nothing to what has been said. I have the honour to be Vice-President of the Council of Christians and Jews. The Presidents are the most reverend Primate, the late Cardinal Hinsley, whose strong feelings on this subject were so well known, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Moderator of the Council of Free Churches and the Chief Rabbi. It is therefore, your Lordships will agree, a very representative body. The primary objects of the Council are to combat religious and racial intolerance and to promote mutual understanding and good will between Christians and Jews in all sections of the community, especially in connexion with problems arising from the war.

Although these are the chief activities—and I can assure your Lordships that they are very necessary in order to frustrate efforts which are still being made in various quarters to sow dissension between Christians and Jews; I cannot help thinking such efforts must be very pleasing to Herr Goebbels—the Council has naturally had under consideration the terrible situation arising from the persecution of Jews in Europe. As a result of its deliberations it passed a resolution, of which I should like to read to your Lordships the salient points, because they express far better than I can do the action we should like to see the Government take. I may add that the resolution has already been sent to the Prime Minister and to those members of the Government chiefly concerned. The resolution begins by expressing appreciation of the assurances and promises given by the Government to alleviate in certain respects this great evil, and then goes on: ''Subject always to consideration of national security, His Majesty's Government should grant temporary asylum in their own territories and in territories under their control, including Palestine, to such refugees from Nazi persecution as may succeed in making their way to such territories; and His Majesty's Government should make every effort to induce similar action on the part of the other Governments of the United Nations. I ask your Lordships specially to note the word "temporary." The fact that the asylum is to be of a temporary character ought to alleviate the fears of those, even in countries where there is a large Moslem population, who are apprehensive of a permanent settlement in their territories of a large number of Jewish refugees. I ought to add that this basic assumption does not preclude the final settlement in the countries in which they may wish to remain of those Jews who desire to stay there permanently, subject always to satisfactory arrangements being feasible.

I return to the resolution: His Majesty's Government, acting as far as possible in association with the other Governments of the United Nations, should give assurance to the Governments of those neutral countries in which refugees may seek sanctuary both of present financial assistance and/or food supplies, should cither or both be necessary. His Majesty's Government and the Governments of the other United Nations should further, in view of the declaration of December 17, 1942, pledge themselves to provide for the ultimate settlement of the above-mentioned refugees in the post-war period. This proposal has been already emphasized by the most reverend Primate. The Council trusts that the United Nations will take steps to convey the warning contained in the declaration of December 17, 1942, to the Government of all States where Jewish lives are in danger. Finally, the members of the Council, as representing both Christian and Jewish public opinion, desire to press upon His Majesty's Government their deep sense of urgency in this matter and their hope that a decision as to the practical steps that can be taken will be reached and applied in time. These are the chief features of the Council's resolution. Your Lordships will note that it does go, in some respects, beyond the Resolution now moved by the most reverend Primate though it does not go beyond what was said in his speech. It urges the Government to take action. I know the most reverend Primate agrees with this resolution, because he happened to preside over the meeting of the Council at which it was adopted. I trust, therefore, that the Government will find it possible to take, as speedily as may be, the steps indicated in the two resolutions. I can assure your Lordships and the Government that any measures to this end will receive the warmest support and approval of the Catholics of this country, and I may add, I believe, of Catholics everywhere.


My Lords, I am glad to follow the two noble Lords who have just spoken with such fervour and eloquence. I begin to feel that if I were not an Englishman I would sooner be a Scotsman after listening to them. Speaking as a Methodist layman I should like to associate myself, and I believe the vast body of Free Churchmen, with what has been so ably and persuasively said by the most reverend Primate this afternoon. In common with members of his own Church, we thank God and take courage that such a fearless Christian leader is found amongst us in these dark and difficult days. He exercises an influence not only in this country but also far beyond our shores, the œcumenical value of which it would be difficult to exaggerate. Blessed, as he is, with a virile mind and gracious disposition, we welcome his leadership, not alone on this Jewish question, but also on other public issues.

If I may crave your Lordships' indulgence for a moment, let me take this opportunity of thanking the most reverend Primate for the firm and courageous stand he has taken against the spurious and pernicious argument that leaders of Christian Churches have no right to enter the field of politics and economics. No one can preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and remain indifferent to social institutions which contradict that teaching. Wherever the Churches find practices which are contrary to Christian doctrine, whether they be such diabolical and horrifying practices as those we are more especially considering this afternoon, or others, it is no more than their bounden duty to denounce them. The intellectual process of straightening must precede the political process of settling, and when ulti- mate values are stressed in so doing we breathe an ampler and more vitalizing atmosphere.

It is strange that those who complain of the Churches' intervention seem only to recognize as politics proposals to change existing conditions, and fail entirely to realize that to accept and to extol the present social order is just as much politics. It is of inestimable value that the two Archbishops of the Anglican Church should be in the vanguard of the fight for social righteousness; and their insistence on the right of Christian teaching to play its part in the great social and economic movements which will shake the world to its very foundations in the coming years, is unreservedly to be welcomed. Christian democracy is indeed fortunate to have two such leaders, and I make no apology, as a Free Churchman, for thanking them publicly in your Lordships' House this afternoon for the stand they are taking and the lead they are giving.

The Motion submitted by the most reverend Primate to-day is really a plea for immediate measures to be taken to provide help and temporary asylum for persons in danger of massacre who are able to leave enemy and enemy-occupied countries. I desire to support that plea as a matter of the utmost urgency. It may well be that some neutral countries are doing more than we are aware of in this regard, but in that case they might be prepared to do even more still if they were officially or unofficially assured of the support of the United Nations, and especially if they were indemnified against costs. I am not at all sure that I can subscribe to all that has been said this afternoon about the impossibility of getting big numbers out of these countries of horror. That some Jews are still managing to escape from the hell in which they find themselves is common knowledge. The tragedy of it is that the number is not greater, but I believe that that number could be multiplied many times. Why is the number so small? I submit that it is partly owing to the rigidity of the regulations on neutral frontiers abutting on enemy and enemy-occupied territories; but if neutrals were assured of facilities for passing on refugees, and if arrangements could be made immediately to evacuate those already in neutral countries, and if, in addition, neutrals and non-belligerents were guaranteed food and money for maintenance for such Jews as could find their way across the frontiers, that might substantially increase the number of those reaching asylum.

In any case such action on our part would at least be a practical expression of our anxiety to assist in the work of rescue; but the best evidence of our genuine concern would be the immediate revision of the regulations which so drastically restrict our own issue of visas and transit visas. Such action would at the same time be a recognition of our sacred duty to do all in our power to rescue as many as possible of our fellow human beings from these looters of lives. In view of the mass deportations and horrifying massacres of Jews going on at this moment while we are here discussing the problem, is it too much to ask His Majesty's Government to relax in some degree the severity of the regulations governing the entry into this country and the Colonies? It is really of paramount importance that the Government should not only be assured of your Lordships' fullest support for the immediate measures as set out in the most reverend Primate's Motion, but that they should realize how deeply concerned your Lordships are by the lack of initiative shown in attempting ameliorative measures to meet the ghastly and heartbreaking situation that faces us. I want, if I may, to emphasize as the most reverend Primate said, the necessity for some sort of answer to the question as to what can be done.

So much for ourselves. As regards other countries I give pride of place to Turkey, for she is no longer a neutral but a non-belligerent; our friend and Ally whose Prime Minister, speaking in the Turkish Parliament last week, said: We warmly grasp the hand extended to us by the British Government, and we affirm that Anglo-Turkish friendship is not dictated by the emergencies of the moment, but is a vital need of both nations. The Turkish Prime Minister was announcing the new Government's continuity of policy to the Grand National Assembly, and referred to it as no longer exclusive the policy of the Turkish Foreign Minister nor of the Government, nor even of the Grand National Assembly; "it entirely belongs," he said, "to the nation and to the sons of Turkey." And then, according to the report in The Times, he added there was one point that ought to be emphasized: "Anglo-Turkish friendship."

I want to emphasize that too. For about a quarter of a century I have been a member either of your Lordships' House or the other House of Parliament, in the course of which it has been my privilege to be a Minister of the Crown. I can therefore speak with some knowledge of public opinion in this country, and I say with a full sense of responsibility as a member of your Lordships' House that I believe there is at the present time among our people a volume of support for our friendship with that great country of Turkey, which stands sentinel at the gates of Europe and Asia, that has seldom been surpassed in respect of any country. I believe therefore it would be equally true for us on our part to say of Anglo-Turkish friendship, "it belongs to the nation" and also that it is fortified and strengthened by a warmth of feeling that is the best augury for its continuance alike in war and peace.

I have visited Turkey in the past and I know something of the Turkish people, and I delight in the sureness of the foundation upon which Anglo-Turkish friendship indubitably rests. But that being so, I am the more at a loss to understand why there seems so much diffidence in our Government's approach to the Turkish Government in this matter of the rescue of the Jews upon which there is such a volume of feeling in this country. One does not mind seeking co-operation with one's friends. Let us show our appreciation of and confidence in that outstretched hand of friendship by asking more of it, not for ourselves, but for those who are suffering this cruel wrong and threatened with mass extermination unless means of escape are made available. This is not a question of principle but of degree that needs to be stressed in the case of Turkey. For some help is already being given. Admittedly there are difficulties within Turkey which make cross-country traffic far from easy, but the Turkish people are not dismayed by difficulties; on the contrary they are at their very best in surmounting them.

May I now refer for a moment to the references of the most reverend Primate to the statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the 3rd of last month, when he gave the immigration certificates still available for Palestine? The numbers involved make a total of 34,000, including 270 Jewish children from Rumania and Hungary. Now clearly the main difficulty of handling such a number is transport. As to that, I know something about transport, for I earned my living in the business. In the case of the 270 Jewish children from Rumania and Hungary, to whom the Colonial Secretary referred as being already on the way, it was the good offices of our friends the Turkish Government that enabled arrangements to be made for their transit through Turkey in groups of fifty. There are at present, I believe, only two trains weekly running through Turkey on which children can travel, and even on these trains only a limited number of places would be available. The maximum number which could be coped with by such a limited railway service would be only, say, 500 a month. If therefore nothing is done to extend these railway facilities only about 6,000 children could possibly be so moved during the next twelve months. This is of course entirely inadequate. Will His Majesty's Government use all their influence with our Turkish friends to secure some expansion of the existing railway facilities? "The only way to have a friend is to be one."

In addition, I hope that the Government will explore every suggestion of the most reverend Primate as to the feasibility of procuring additional steamer transport either from allied or neutral ships. Could not steamers be run from Bulgarian and Turkish ports to Palestine, under the protection of the Red Cross, or could neutral steamers be chartered from Istanbul to Mersin, the railhead near the Turkish-Syrian frontier? I have been along that coast from Istanbul to Smyrna and Beirut, and I say without fear of contradiction that the port of Mersin is almost ideally situated for the purpose. It has deep water and pier facilities for passenger and goods handling both traffic. It has rail connexions to Egypt, to Syria and Palestine in one direction and to the Persian Gulf through Turkey and Iraq in the other. By the way, I see in the Daily Telegraph this morning, that extensive improvements are now being carried out at Mersin, and as a member of the Port of London Authority I know how important it is for port facilities to be kept up to date. When they are kept up to date let us use them in such humanitarian matters as we are dis- cussing this afternoon. One thing is quite certain, unless some further definite concrete action is taken, and that without delay, to increase the existing transport facilities, it will be too late, for the sands in the hour-glass are fast running out and the bulk of these 34,000 certificates will be useless for they will be represented by so many mutilated and massacred bodies. Oh, the abject horror and tragedy of it! I agree that there is a less sombre side to the picture. There have been some refugees evacuated to Palestine and I think it only just to recognize that the news from North Africa is definitely better and more encouraging.

Now as to neutral countries. After setting an example ourselves we should be in better heart to explore all avenues of approach to non-belligerent and neutral Governments in an effort to organize co-operative action. Sweden is understood to have agreed to receive Jews from Norway and Finland, but in neither country are there many Jews. Speaking of Sweden reminds me that the publicity of such a debate as this is invaluable and most distasteful to the Germans. For consider this a delegation of the Swedish Red Cress, investigating the medical needs of the Baltic States, I am told, was required to give pledges to the German authorities that it would not deliver either food or medicine to the Jews, and not only so, but a promise was extracted from every member of the delegation that on their return they would make no statement whatever about the condition of the Jews in the countries they visited. Comment is superfluous. In the case of Spain, ever since the Nazi occupation of Southern France, there has been increased infiltration of Jewish and other refugees through the Pyrenees to Spain. It is estimated that there are at present about 7,000 Jews in Spain and between 1,500 and 2,000 in Portugal. Some little relief is being obtained by the emigration of Jews to America via Lisbon, though not yet on a large scale. Can the Government see their way to expedite transport from Lisbon?

As the most reverend Primate said, it may not be necessary to tax Allied shipping, for neutral Governments might possibly be willing to place vessels at the disposal of relief organizations if our Government gave the required navicerts. I hope your Lordships will be able to use your influence—where others have failed—to short circuit official difficulties and persuade the Government to grant the necessary navicerts, for the problem may be accentuated at any moment if further Axis aggression should eventuate. As the most reverend Primate reminded us, there are men serving in our Forces at the present time whose parents are in Spain and are in danger of being transported to Poland and massacred if the Germans invade Spain. Consider the tragic and pitiable position of the Jews in what was known as Unoccupied France, who had either fled or been expelled from Germany or German-occupied territory. Given the premise of Allied landings in North Africa, the corollary was not far to seek—the Germans would for a certainty occupy Southern France with the result that those Jews who might have been rescued are now beyond reach. So the tragedy goes on.

In regard to Switzerland, there is great scope for co-operative action. The Swiss people are definitely anti-Nazi and they have the overwhelming advantage of geography. Two of the three main railways connecting Germany and Italy cross the immensely fortified Alpine stronghold and these would no doubt be immediately and irreparably blown up in the event of Axis aggression. This geographic and strategic position, I submit, effectively dividing as it does, the two Axis Powers, creates an inner fortress within the so-called "fortress of Europe" and gives to Switzerland immense bargaining powers which she can use without in any way infringing her neutrality. Notwithstanding Germany's economic power she has totally failed to build up political supremacy over Switzerland, and I submit this is a case where co-operative effort might be of immense service to the Jews. The ordinary war-time restrictions on the entry of aliens into Switzerland are maintained but—and this is the point—a debate in the Swiss Legislature last September—I think it was on the 23rd of that month—gave a trend to subsequent action so that Jewish and other refugees from France who get across the border surreptitiously and afterwards report to the police are permitted to remain in Switzerland in camps set up for the purpose. It is understood that Switzerland is not primarily concerned about financial aid, but would be very much interested in and likely to expand her good work by an assurance that at the end of the war refugees on Swiss soil would be accepted by us or other countries until repatriated to their own.

On January 19 last the Deputy Prime Minister said in another place that the Government were consulting with other countries to discover "what further measures it is possible to take, as soon as possible, to assist those refugees who make their way to countries beyond German control," and he added that His Majesty's Government "are themselves working out certain practical proposals which they can make as a further contribution to this concerted effort." After more than two months can the Government tell us what international measures have in fact been taken other than accenting the proposal for a preliminary Anglo-American discussion which has already been referred to in this debate? What if any "practical proposals," to use the Deputy Prime Minister's words, have the Government since made? Are or are not the Government prepared to accept ultimate responsibility for the refugees who do succeed in reaching countries bordering on Axis or Axis-occupied countries in their efforts to escape the Nazi slaughterhouse of cold-blooded massacre? The answer to that question, I submit, might have a very material bearing upon the attitude of the Swiss and other Governments in offering asylum to additional refugees who can escape and remove themselves from the clutches of this diabolical Nazi terror.

The needs of neutrals vary, of course, according to the country, and include food supply, financial help, transport facilities, and, last but by no means least, assurances that in the ultimate settlement after the war, the neutral countries of first refuge would not be left indefinitely to bear their refugee responsibilities unaided. Whatever the difficulties, and however specious the arguments against affording such help, I would urge that the plain call of our common humanity should prevail in this issue of life or death of our fellow human beings. Hitler is the head and front of crime that literally staggers the imagination; he has polluted with every kind of crime and filled with echoes of torture and horror every land he has occupied. We are concerned with all persecuted minorities, but the Christian necessarily feels an intimate responsibility in regard to the Jews since Christ "according to the flesh" came out of Israel. Almost every page of the New Testament shows how close was the association between religious Judaism and the first followers of Christ.

Delay in rescue means death, and the correspondence between Washington and London emphasizes the need to avoid long-drawn-out negotiations. One thing is quite certain—nothing but unqualified determination will overcome the difficulties and obstacles inseparable from this ghastly inhuman tragedy. And time is of the very essence of the matter, for while we debate and correspond hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children are suffering indescribable torture, and stand in hourly jeopardy of their lives. On the other hand 300,000 Jews have entered Palestine since Hitler's advent to power, and about 30,000 since the outbreak of war, most of whom would now have been inmates of his torture chambers had they not escaped in time. This tragic problem is so immense and is fraught with such immeasurable consequences that it is altogether too serious to be cast as an additional burden upon the already overburdened shoulders of the Home Secretary, who is carrying so many other Departmental duties as well as being a member of the War Cabinet. I should like to support what the most reverend Primate said under that head.

As has been well said, the treatment of the Jews is so wanton in its cruelty, so naked and unashamed in its inhumanity, that to fail to meet it with such counteraction as is open to us would be to share in the degradation of humanity. I submit that the very essence of Christian democracy is a belief in the supreme value of each individual soul and in the brotherhood of man. The scale of suffering in the present case seems to paralyse us. However little we can do we must at all costs do that little soon and to the very utmost we can. If we cannot save multitudes let us save some, however few. While the only final remedy is an Allied victory, that I submit, does not exonerate us from seeking temporary measures of relief in the meantime. I believe, with the fullest conviction, the country will accept any sacrifice consistent with winning the war in order to bring relief to these tortured and helpless sufferers. It must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh. And woe to us if we leave any stone unturned in seeking to aid and succour those of our fellow human beings who are suffering this cruel Nazi stumbling-block of offence. The Nazis have indeed debased themselves even unto hell, but let us remember "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity," as we recall those words in the 57th chapter of Isaiah: Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people. Thus shall our strength be renewed to secure an Allied victory, which we are all agreed will, in itself, be the most effective way of succouring the Jews and other tortured peoples. I apologize for trespassing for so long upon your Lordships' time. I support the Motion of the most reverend Primate, and I would urge the redoubling of our efforts to succour "one of the least of these," as we recall the latter part of the 25th chapter of St. Matthew.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes. I do very sincerely desire to press on the Government, what I am sure they are quite well aware of already, that there is behind this Motion, which the most reverend Primate has submitted to your Lordships, a great body of opinion, a vast body of opinion. I do not propose to give to your Lordships all the reasons that might be given for that opinion, but I will, if I may, point just to two facts which seem to me to be very striking. In the first place there is the fact that a Motion, in, I think, exactly the same words as that of the most reverend Primate, was submitted to the House of Commons and has received no fewer than 277 signatures in its support. That is very striking proof from the representative Chamber of the amount of feeling that exists on this subject. Then, in this morning's newspaper I read that a cable was sent to the Foreign Secretary in America urging him to take every opportunity of raising this matter in discussion with the American Government, and substantially repeating again the points which the Archbishop has laid before us. That cable was sent by a very large number of people. Only three days were spent in collecting signatures, but they include those of leaders of religious bodies in this country, of a considerable body of members of your Lordships' House and the other House, and of no fewer than twelve Lord Mayors and three Lord Provosts in this island. The signatures also include those of outstanding men in the realms of science, literature and art, and indeed of every department of life.

These facts are, I think, of very great importance. They show that this is the sort of question which occasionally arises in this country and sweeps away all barriers between different sections of thought among our people. The country is really unanimous in thinking that everything that can possibly be done should be done—subject of course to this; that everything which is done by the Government should be consistent with winning the war. Naturally, the sooner we can win the war the more effectively and quickly shall we be able to stop these horrors, among other things. The question is whether there is anything we can do in a practical way meanwhile. I am not going to repeat what has been so admirably said in the debate already as to various steps that might be taken. I cannot help thinking that more might have been done to facilitate the escape of these unhappy people from the countries in which they are threatened—not only Germany and the occupied countries, but countries like Bulgaria and Rumania, where they are threatened, though no great massacres have so far taken place. There are tremendous numbers of people who can yet be saved if we take the necessary steps to accomplish that object.

The difficulties, of course, are immense. The difficulties of transport have already been referred to, and I need not repeat what has been said about them. But something might be done, as many speakers have already said, through the neutral countries. In any case, will not the Government consider the suggestion made, I think, by the Archbishop of York, that we should declare openly, and I particularly to the neutrals, that we are prepared to give an asylum to any of these refugees who are flying for their lives who can possibly reach this country? Cannot the statement be made that the moment they reach here they will be safe, and that there will be no question of visas or anything of that kind, but that as soon as we are satisfied that they are genuine refu- gees, flying for their lives, they will be admitted to this country and taken care of here or in some other country? It would be a great thing to have a statement of that kind made and brought to the notice of the neutral countries, because the neutral countries would then say: "We can take these people in temporarily and then hand them over to some British-ruled country, where they will be safe and where they will no longer be a burden on us"—and that, in the case of some of the smaller countries, is a serious consideration at the present time.

I agree very much with what was said by my noble friend Lord Perth, that it must be made clear that what we are doing is to afford a temporary measure of shelter to these people until the end of the war. There is no question of permanent settlement. We are prepared to shelter them until the end of the war, and afterwards we must consider what is to be done with them. We must sweep away what I may call the Departmental point of view. In addition to the instances of that given by the most reverend Primate, no one can read the answers in the House of Commons without feeling that in some of the Departments, and in some of the most important Departments, this matter is still dealt with as if it were similar to the question of the admission of aliens in time of peace, and that we have to consider whether they were going to be a burden to us, whether their admission was in accordance with precedent, and whether there was a possibility of some popular or factitious opposition being aroused to what was being done. I feel that we must put this matter on quite a different footing. This is a terrific emergency. There has been a deliberate threat made by Hitler and his friends that they will do their utmost to extinguish the whole Jewish nationality before they are finally defeated. Hitler has said so in the most express and definite terms, and that it what he is trying to do. Women and children are affected in the same way as men. There is no precedent unless we go back a thousand years for the wickedness of the German proceedings in this connexion. In view of that, we cannot treat this as an ordinary question of the admission of aliens.

I entirely assent to everything that the most reverend Primate said about the immense difficulties that are placed on the shoulders of Ministers at the present time, and about the terrific burden on their strength and on their energy. But there is no reason why they should bear this additional burden. Let them lay down the broad lines of policy, such as have been indicated by every speaker in this debate, and then let them appoint some individual—it does not matter whether he is called a Minister or not; he might be called a High Commissioner—whose business it would be to look everywhere to see how these pople can be enabled to escape. That must be his primary duty, and he must be furnished with the proper constitutional machinery to press for any reform that he can devise on the Government as a whole. He would have a Committee consisting of representatives of the Departments principally concerned, but he would be responsible. I remember very well what an enormous work Dr. Nansen was able to achieve. He was the kind of man we want, although I may be told that there are not many Nansens. He devoted himself absolutely to the work. He had no authority, apart from what was given to him by his position, but everything he suggested was adopted, because nobody would venture to oppose his considered opinion.

I do not think that it would be difficult to find a man with that energy and of that description amongst the citizens of this country. I would go further and say that he could be found amongst the members of this House. I think anyone could suggest a member of this House who has immense courage and who is prepared to support even unpopular views with great strength and eloquence, and who would, if he could be induced to undertake these duties, be the kind of man well fitted to carry them out. We do not want a "safe" man; we want a man, to use the old phrase, "with fire in his stomach," a man determined to do his utmost. I am quite sure that, if such a man could be found, the difficulties in the way of action would be found to be far less than sometimes may be imagined at the present time. I have heard in this debate, and have read in the newspapers, the various suggestions which have been made for international action. I am in favour of international action, but it must not be made an excuse for the British Government to do nothing. I am sure that that is not intended by my noble friends opposite, but I am not sure that it is not in- tended by some people—not the Government, but others. I hope that it will be well understood that the responsibility of the British. Government must remain, whatever is done internationally. They are bound to do their utmost to save these people if they can. That is the view which I want to submit to your Lordships.

There is one other thing that I would add. The case on the grounds of humanity and religion is overwhelming and I could not say anything to strengthen it; but there is one other point of view which I venture to submit to the House and to the Government. In this great struggle we stand for a bettor condition of life and a higher international standard. That is really the main thing for which we do stand. We hope to establish, as we heard last Sunday night, a new system in this country and in international affairs which will be better than the old one, which will remove some of the injustices, some of the fears, and some of the horrors that at present exist. We shall want all our national authority to get these things done. The one greet asset which we have is a certain reputation for honesty and sincerity. As long as that remains, our influence internationally will be very great, and our influence in our own country will be immense. I do beg the Government to consider that if, through any fault of their own, they are unable to do anything to help in this great crisis, it will be very difficult to persuade the world that we are really in earnest in these matters, and a great deal of our authority will have gone when we want it most in settling the terms of peace.


My Lords, the question which has been raised by the most reverend Primate in the very powerful speech which he delivered to your Lordships this afternoon is clearly one of the very first importance. We must all recognize with my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood, that in what he has said he has voiced the anxieties of a very wide body of opinion in this country. We live to-day at a time when we might almost have expected to have become callous to horrors, but I do not think there can be anyone, if he thinks at all, who is not appalled by the catalogue of horrors which is retailed to us every day in the newspapers through their correspondents in neutral countries, and which is supported by documentary photographs, so that there can be no doubt whatever of the facts. The most reverend Primate himself and those noble Lords who followed him have painted a vivid and moving picture of the situation in Europe and of the odious persecutions which are being inflicted upon the Jews, the Czechoslovaks, the Poles, the Yugoslavs and the other subject peoples. For I think it would be a mistake to throw undue emphasis on the Jewish side of this question. We all admit it is perhaps the most horrible feature, but it is only a feature of a much bigger problem, and the problem must be faced as a whole.

There is nothing, I think, that I can add to the terrible facts which the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords have exposed, except to say that His Majesty's Government accept in full what they have said. The most diseased imagination could not exaggerate the horrors which are at present being perpetrated, and which make the name of Germany stink in the nostrils of the civilized world. Nor would His Majesty's Government quarrel in any way with the view of the most reverend Primate, that it is up to us, as to other nations, to do all in our power consistent with military security considerations—and I would add with the vital interests of our own people—to provide assistance and asylum for the victims of this policy of extermination. That has been throughout the policy of His Majesty's Government, and it remains their policy to-day. The refugee problem is not one of those problems on which there is any difference of view, so far as I know, as to the object which is sought to be attained: on that we are all of us united. It is purely a question of methods and means and practical possibilities. That is the whole of the problem. It does not make it a small problem but that is the whole nature of the problem. It is with regard to this aspect alone that any differences of view are expressed.

The most reverend Primate himself to-day in his speech indicated that in his view His Majesty's Government were not treating this problem sufficiently seriously. He drew attention to the solemn nature of the declaration of the United Nations, and he deplored the contrast with—I took clown his words—"the meagre results achieved." If he will forgive me for saying so—because I am sure he will realize I am entirely sympathetic with the aim he seeks to achieve—I equally was a little shocked by what appeared to be a certain lack of appreciation in the minds of the most reverend Primate and of other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon as to the formidable nature of the difficulties which have to be faced. It really is no use belittling these difficulties, because they are immense. It was suggested, I think by the most reverend Primate himself, that His Majesty's Government were so concerned with other affairs that they have no time to deal with the refugee problem. That is surely an unjust charge to make against the Government. I know from my own experience in the Colonial Office how much of the time of Ministers is taken up with this terrible and difficult problem.

The most reverend Primate himself occupies a position of immense authority and responsibility. Everything that he says will be repeated and reported all over the world. And yet it seemed to me that he did not take sufficient account of essential factors in the situation which must inevitably limit unilateral action on our part. He talked of the inaction of His Majesty's Government, he said he regarded as irrelevant any reference to the steps which had been taken in the past by this country, and he mentioned figures which I think had been given to him in an interview he had at the Home Office. Those figures would indeed be irrelevant if the only object were to show that we had done enough, that we wanted to wash our hands of the whole problem. That would be both smug and hypocritical. But that is not the attitude of His Majesty's Government, and if I quote these figures again, which I propose to do, it is not for that purpose: it is to point to the inexorable fact that there is already an immense body of refugees both in this country and in the British Colonial territories overseas, and that this inevitably limits the further numbers that we can take in.

If I may take, first of all, this country, certainly I should have thought it could not be said that Great Britain had been backward in the taking in of refugees from Nazi oppression. Even before the war, in accordance with our traditional policy towards the victims of persecution, we had admitted from Germany and Austria alone over 55,000 adults, and many of these had children with them. There was also a further 13,000 children without adults. In addition nearly 10,000 Czechoslovak nationals found refuge here in the twelve months which preceded the war. The refugee population of this country, therefore, at the moment of the outbreak of war, was 78,000, not counting children with parents.


Many of these have gone on already.


No, those were the ones which remained in this country at the outbreak of war. There had been a constantly fluctuating population. Some came in, others went out; it was a process which was going on the whole time. But 78,000 was the number that existed here when the war broke out. Now I should like to examine the intake of refugees since the start of the war. In 1940 we took in approximately 35,000—these figures are inevitably somewhat approximate—in 1941, when the conditions were much more difficult, we took in 13,000; and in 1942 we took in 15,000. These figures include 20,000 seamen. I want to be quite frank with the House, I do not want to overstate the case in any way. Of course some of these seamen are not here the whole time. They are not a burden on our resources in the same way as ordinary refugees would be.


Some of them are not Jews.


The noble Lord must not regard this as a Jewish problem. Every nation in Europe is being tortured by the Germans, and the noble Lord will only do the Jews themselves harm by taking that attitude. The figure does not include the members of the Allied Forces, which are very considerable in this country. This makes a total of a little over 63,000 refugees since the war. Adding the number of pre-war refugees and war refugees, including all children, we get a total of about 150,000 souls, all of whom have to be fed and cared for. If it is argued that we have ourselves, during that time, sent abroad very large numbers of troops who do not need to be fed in this country, I would remind your Lordships that they have got to be fed somewhere, and therefore they do not represent a reduction of our ration strength. I hope, in view of these figures which I have given, that we at any rate shall not be regarded as having been callous or unmindful of our obligations.

This country, as your Lordships know, is not self-supporting. It is dependent on supplies from abroad, and every ounce of food imported into this country at this moment is being brought in by the blood and sweat of British sailors. There must be limits, inevitably, whatever our wishes are, to the task we set these heroic men. The most reverend Primate talked at one stage of his speech as if we had ample supplies in this country. I understood him to say we were so well off for food that we could very easily receive as many refugees as were likely to get here. Does he really believe our situation is as easy as that? It is quite true that there is no definite shortage of food in this country at the present moment, but that is entirely due to the merchant seamen of this country, to the farmers, and, if I may say so, to the magnificent administration of my noble friend Lord Woolton. To suggest that there are large surplus supplies in this country is a most dangerous illusion.

Moreover, in war-time, the nation must preserve some reserve against the rainy day. As your Lordships know, the battle of the Atlantic is at present raging with perhaps greater ferocity than at any previous period of the war. No quarter is being given on either side. At present we, the Allies, are holding our own, and we are even gaining, thanks to the unprecedented efforts of the great American shipbuilding industry; but at any moment we might have a bad spell, and we might have need of all our reserves if our production and power to wage war were not to be seriously and, perhaps, dangerously hampered. Were such a situation to arise, and a large number of refugees had been brought in, the Government would be very naturally and very rightly censured. There is also the problem of accommodation. I do not stress this because I am anxious not to over-state the case. This is such an immensely painful and urgent subject that any impression that the Government were trying to make a case Would be deplorable and disastrous, and I would not lend myself to it. I do not over-stress it, but there is no doubt that in this country there is a very considerable shortage of accommodation, very largely due to the destruction of houses during the "Blitz."

If that is the situation which faces us here in this country, the difficulties are no less in the Colonial territories. There are not unlimited supplies, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, suggested in his speech. This is a subject about which I know something from my period in the Colonial Office. Take the case of East Africa. Before the war it had a white population of 30,000. Since the war the East African Colonies have received an additional white population, including Italian prisoners, of over 90,000. By an immense effort they have managed to feed this quadrupled population and maintain it, and in addition they are playing a large part in supplying our Armies in the Middle East. The present situation in East Africa, from the food point of view, is not a happy one. It is a very difficult one, and I understand, having made careful inquiries, that it is really undesirable to take any more refugees into East Africa at present. We hope the situation will improve, but the position is such that it would indeed be impossible at present to add to the numbers already there. In the case of India, the Government of India have taken, and are maintaining, where necessary, over 400,000 refugees in addition to the normal population. As the House will know from the statement made not long ago, even in India the food situation at the present time is by no means easy. I could, if I wanted, multiply such examples both as regards Jamaica, the other West Indian islands, and Cyprus. In all those countries, at present, owing to the dislocation of the normals channels of trade, the food situation for the normal population is difficult.

Finally, I come to the case of Palestine which was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. Here, as your Lordships know, we not only have an economic but a political problem. As it has fallen to my lot to explain again and again in this House, it is not possible for His Majesty's Government to go beyond the terms of policy approved by Parliament. I was very much surprised that the noble Viscount to-day should say that if His Majesty's Government took in more Jewish refugees into Palestine it would have no repercussion on the Arabs.


I did not say it would have no repercussion. I said it would not be detrimental to their welfare. I appreciate the possibility of political repercussion.


That is the main point. I thought it was generally accepted in this House that you could not go beyond the terms of this policy because it would lead to immediate repercussions in the Middle East, and that is the case. Therefore we are limited to the principles laid down by that policy. What we can do, and what in my opinion we must do, in the cause of humanity, is to go to the absolute limit that that policy allows, and that is indeed what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has already done. The most reverend Primate referred to this point to-day. In the statement made on February 3 it was announced that the Government of Palestine had agreed to admit from Bulgaria 4,000 Jewish children, with 500 adults accompanying them, as well as 500 children from Hungary and Rumania. In addition my right honourable friend said, and I quote his words: His Majesty's Government will be prepared, provided the necessary transport facilities can be made available, to continue to admit into Palestine Jewish children, with a proportion of adults, up to the limits of immigration permissible for the five-year immigration period ending 31st March, 1944. The numbers involved are approximately 29,000, still available under the White Paper. The usual conditions governing immigration would have to be fulfilled. My right honourable friend will realize that the very considerable difficulties involved in making the necessary arrangements for transport— I ask your Lordships to note those particular words— and for the accommodation and sustenance in Palestine of such large parties of refugees, may limit the numbers that can be handled under this procedure. If there have been delays they arise from practical questions relating to transport. His Majesty's Government are not at fault. It is not a question of undue delay. It is because the transport is not forthcoming. I was surprised to hear the most reverend Primate say that three weeks have passed, and the transport is not available. Has the most reverend Primate any idea of the transport situation at the present time? Every ship is earmarked. Every ship is moving the whole time. A ship has to be taken off a certain route in order to put it on another route. The situation is not in the least normal, and I am afraid I could not agree that three weeks is an unduly long time. What I can say is that it is clearly right we should reduce the time to the minimum, that every effort should be made to get these unhappy little children to Palestine as soon as they can possibly be got there, and I can give the House an absolute assurance that is what my right honourable friend the Colonial Secretary is at present doing. I am not going to say he will achieve these results immediately. I think it very likely it will take some time. But he will do his utmost, and nobody can do more.

I hope the House will forgive me for going so fully into these figures, but noble Lords will appreciate that so far from being irrelevant they are the crux of the whole matter, so far at any rate as unilateral action by this country is concerned. The capacity of Great Britain and of her Colonial territories to maintain vast quantities of refugees is dependent, and must be dependent in war-time, on two vital and inter-related considerations. Those are shipping and food. Already our resources are greatly stretched. I do not say no more refugees can be taken in; it would be quite absurd to say that not a single other refugee can be taken into this country or the Empire. I hope a good many more will be taken. But I do say that Great Britian alone can find no solution to this terrible problem, though of course they can, and I think must, use every method they can to try to alleviate it.

I should be deceiving the House if I suggested that the kind of proposals which have been put forward this afternoon by the most reverend Primate for unilateral action by this country present in themselves a way out of our difficulties. There is, my Lords, no evidence that any inducement such as he has suggested would encourage neutral nations in Europe to modify their refugee policy. Indeed, to press them would be likely at the present moment to cause them acute embarrassment and increase the difficulties of the situation. The neutral countries in Europe are few and they are themselves short of food, but in spite of their difficulties—and, I think it will be generally agreed, to their eternal credit—they are maintaining at the present time large numbers of refugees and more are constantly coming in from the occupied territories. If we ask them to take greatly increased numbers they are likely to require assurances that these refugees will be rapidly removed to another country of refuge, and immediately we shall come up against what is our main and our most intractable difficulty. We have ourselves alone nowhere at the present time to offer as a country of ultimate refuge for any substantial number of refugees. This difficulty is not surmounted by the most reverend Primate's proposals regarding neutral shipping, though I shall be very glad to go into that suggestion and see whether it provides any contributory cure for this appalling ill. Nor is the difficulty surmounted by his second proposal about ships bringing munitions and returning loaded with refugees; nor is it surmounted ever by his proposal regarding block visas.

It is of course not true, as I think has beer suggested this afternoon, that visas are not at present being granted. Take the case of the 2,000 Jewish children to which I think the most reverend Primate himself referred, and on which I know considerable misapprehension exists. It is constantly said in various quarters that visas were refused to these children, with the result that they were deported to Germany. I have been making inquiries into this case and I find that that is not a correct description of what happened. Mora visas were in fact available for these children—and indeed not only for children from France but children from other occupied countries—than were in fact made use of. What happened was that the children could not come to this country for the very simple reason that the Germans and the Vichy authorities refused to grant exit permits. I repeat that it is untrue to suggest that His Majesty's Government are not taking any refugees from Nazi oppression at the present time. We are indeed ready and willing to help, to the limits of our resources.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, asked that we should make a declaration, if I understood him aright, that we would grant asylum to any refugee, to anyone flying from oppression, who chose to ask for it. We cannot do that because of the difficulties of our own national situation. But we are ready to do anything in our power. We are in fact at this moment admitting over 800 refugees a month, who have escaped from the occupied territories and many of whom are anxious to join in the common fight against the Germans and other Axis Powers. There is, however, a certain point beyond which, in this country, we cannot and will not go. The essential need—and this is the only real hope of a cure for this difficult and tragic situation—is to find somewhere where the refugees can be taken in without creating those dangers which face us.


May I ask if the 800 refugees were persons who were going to join the Armed Forces?


Not all of them, but some were. I should think a good many were, but I would rather like notice of that question. I made inquiries and I was told a considerable proportion of them were. Some of them may well have been the wives and children of refugees already here, because they are, as the noble Viscount knows, allowed to come in. I see the noble Viscount opposite shakes his head.


I was shaking my head because statements have been made to me that even the wives and children are not always allowed to come.


I understand that wives and children are allowed to come, but it is true to say that parents cannot come and that most distant relations cannot come. I understand, however, that wives and children can come, and of course men who wish to join the Armed Forces of our Allies are allowed to come. Indeed it would be difficult to refuse them, when the Allied Governments are situated here and are forming Armies in this country to fight the common enemy.

The difficulties which stand in the way of all these limited proposals to which I have already referred seem to me to apply with even greater force to the tentative proposal put forward by the most reverend Primate. As I understand it, it was that we should approach Hitler and suggest that he should release so many Jews a month. I imagine that it was a slip of the tongue on his part to limit this proposal to Jews, because clearly, as I said before, it should apply equally to the other tortured peoples of Europe. I have the impression that the most reverend Primate had no very great hopes of this proposal himself, and that he mainly put it forward in order that it should be apparent both to ourselves and to the world that we had done all we could in the matter. He indicated that Hitler would probably refuse, in which case his guilt would be more evident to the world. I should have thought that Hitler's guilt was sufficiently visible to the world already. Supposing he did refuse to allow these Jews and other Europeans to come out, we might indeed feel more comfortable; but the miserable people themselves would not be advantaged. We should get a very barren satisfaction from that. If on the other hand Hitler agreed, contrary to our expectations, and we were unable to fulfil our side of the bargain, His Majesty's Government, my Lords, would rightly be accused of a breach of faith, and by no one more than by the most reverend Primate himself. We who are in the Government cannot salve our consciences as easily as that. We must put forward proposals which we ourselves believe practicable.

Therefore, the Government have been driven to the conclusion, for reasons which I have tried to state to your Lordships, that there is not much more we can do alone. Internationally, however, the matter has a different aspect. His Majesty's Government think there is reasonable hope that more progress may be made on an international basis. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Addison, who recommended that and it was a very wise saying. There is no doubt that it is only on an international basis that we can handle this problem. After all, even before the war, it was recognized that the refugee problem was an international responsibility. The establishment by the League of Nations of the High Commissioner for Refugees, and the establishment, by the generous initiative of the American President, of the Evian Committee are witness of that. If it was an international problem before the war, how much more is it an international problem now! The first step which obviously had to be taken if we were to put this matter on an international basis was to approach the United States of America. For the United States, as noble Lords know, has shown the most whole-hearted sympathy with this problem and has herself in recent years taken a very large number of refugees. The first thing was to ask for her collaboration.

His Majesty's Government therefore, as your Lordships know, made an approach to the United States in January last and suggested an informal Conference. In reply, the United States Government expressed themselves as sharing the concern of His Majesty's Government with regard to this terrible problem and explained the contribution which the United States Administration and people had already made towards a solution. In answer to the proposal for a Conference, which was what I may call the executive proposal of the British Government, they suggested action on the following basis. I hesitate to state this at length to your Lordships, because many of you already know the story in full: but I should like it to go on record. First of all, they said that the refugee problem should not be considered as confined to any particular race or faith. With that I think we shall all be in the very fullest agreement. Secondly, they said that inter-Governmental collaboration should be sought for the accommodation of refugees as near as possible to the areas where they were at present receiving hospitality. That is of course intended to overcome the immense difficulties caused by the shortage of shipping. Thirdly, they said that plans should therefore be made for the maintenance of refugees in neutral countries in so far as there was transport to get them there. This would involve assurance of support and return to their native countries when the war ended. That is rather on the lines of some of the things suggested this afternoon, and, on an international basis where more shipping resources may be available, it may very likely be a practicable proposition. Then there was a suggestion in regard to the exploratory Conference. His Majesty's Government accepted the suggestion for Anglo-American exploratory consultation and they agreed to the basis for discussion which I have just detailed to your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Addison, said this afternoon that he hoped this matter had been raised by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in Washington. I am very glad to be able to tell your Lordships that it has been raised. He took the oportunity of discussing this question as a matter of great urgency with the American Government, and I am in a position this afternoon to make a statement which has been agreed between the two Governments and which only reached this country this morning. This is the statement:

"Question of the plight of oppressed and persecuted persons in Europe has been taken up between Mr. Hull and Mr. Eden. It has been decided that conversations in connexion with this matter should take place in the immediate future.

"His Majesty's Government and the United States Government have given expression to their deep interest in coming to a decision as to practical steps which may be taken to supplement the actual measures now being undertaken by the two Governments. Particular reference has been made to persecuted peoples in Eastern Europe for a number of whom refuge in Palestine has already been offered, and to those in Western Europe for some of whom actual arrangements for relief and evacuation have already been made and further arrangements are under preparation.

"The two Governments have previously agreed by exchange of Notes upon the necessity for urgent and immediate action and have arrived at an agenda which they intend to implement in their forthcoming conversations. This programme would have the full support of His Majesty's Government and United States Government and no doubt of other United Nations and neutrals whose collaboration it is hoped to secure.

"It is expected that the place of the meeting and names of representatives of the two Governments will be announced in the immediate future."

I think that is satisfactory, indeed most encouraging news. When that meeting takes place—and in the view of His Majesty's Government the sooner it takes place the better, for I can assure my noble relative, Viscount Cecil, this is not an excuse for delay—all such proposals as have been put forward by the most reverend Primate and by other speakers here, which may appear to be practicable on the international plane, will no doubt be given full consideration. Among these, I would include the most reverend Primate's proposal with regard to a High Commissioner. I must not be taken as giving any pledge on behalf of His Majesty's Government, but of course any proposals regarding these matters will clearly come under examination when the meeting is held. In the meantime—for there will be no doubt some inevitable delay before decisions are taken—both countries are continuing their measures of relief to refugees. The relations between His Majesty's Government and United States authorities are very close and cordial with regard to the refugee problem both in Spain and in North Africa, and in face of very formidable difficulties they have made considerable progress both in setting refugees at liberty and in providing maintenance for them. The most reverend Primate—and I think his words were echoed by other noble Lords—urged that the progress that was being made was too slow. Like him I wish it could have been quicker. But it is idle to ignore the difficulties. Terrible cases have been quoted in this debate, the sort of cases that makes one's blood curdle.

But the truth is there is no rapid or easy cure for this problem. Even before the war, as I know personally, because I was concerned with the question in Geneva and at League Committees in Paris and elsewhere, the difficulties regarding a complete solution were almost insuperable. To-day they are increased one hundredfold. All we can do, and must do, is to keep pegging away in the hope of doing something to alleviate the agony of these unhappy people. That has been throughout—and I can assure your Lordships' House with all sincerity will continue to be—the policy of His Majesty's Government. That is the purpose of the most reverend Primate's Motion. And as he has explained that he does not tie himself to all the specific proposals he has put forward, proposals which are really intended as a contribution to a solution, I am very glad on behalf of His Majesty's Government to accept his Motion, as a symbol of that essential unity of aim which inspires our country in facing this terrible problem.


My Lords, there are very few words I need say in view of what has fallen from the noble Viscount who replied for the Government. Inasmuch as the Government accept this Motion it is clear there is no substantial point of dispute between us. I think perhaps I should disentangle myself from one or two of the knots with which he endeavoured to tie me up, but the interest of that is more personal than public. I really did not suggest that we had a large surplus of food on which we could draw. I only suggested that we are being so very well fed that the entry of, say, 100,000 new people into the country would not reduce our standard of living to such an extent as to injure any of us very badly, and that the country ought to be ready and willing to face the consequences of such an addition to the population. Neither did I ever contemplate a flow of vast numbers of refugees. I have constantly reiterated my view that it would be, at best, but a trickle, and I suggested that there should be refuge available for those, necessarily very few, I fear, who would be able to make their way out. I did not mean to suggest that I was shocked that in the three weeks that elapsed between the Colonial Secretary's two statements it had not been possible for anything to be done with regard to the people of whom he spoke. I merely mentioned it as a fact, and asked whether anything had yet become practicable.

It is inevitable that in circumstances like these when all of us, members of the Government just as much as anyone else, are desperately eager to see action taken, those of us who have no direct responsibility for taking it should be a little impatient, while those who have the responsibility are conscious of difficulties which others of us cannot know to a like degree. I confess that I still cannot escape the impression, which is shared, I gather, by my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, that it will be a very great relief if there can be somebody appointed, whether he is called a High Commissioner or anything else, for whom this will be a prime responsibility. Though I have not the slightest doubt that Ministers of the Crown and those working in their Departments are very busily occupied at the present time, I feel that this is a matter of such urgency and such magnitude that it deserves the whole-time thought of some leading personality who could act in the name of the Government and feel that this is his first responsibility.

The Motion does not refer to any of the specific proposals that I, or the noble Lords who took part in the debate, have suggested. Those proposals were brought forward only as illustrations of action that might be taken, as points that seem to deserve consideration, and as evidence that those who feel strongly on this matter have also tried to acquire information and to think with some relevance about it. But those proposals, as I say, are not included in the Motion. The Motion merely pledges our support to the Government in taking immediately, and on the largest and most generous scale, measures that are practicable to help these poor people. We offer that to the Government at once in a spirit of sympathy and urgency. We have no desire to embarrass them unless they regard it as an embarrassment that we should administer a stimulus.

On Question, Motion agreed to.