HL Deb 07 February 1945 vol 134 cc944-78

3.8 p.m.

THE MARQUESS OF READING rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the position of displaced and Stateless persons on the Continent of Europe; and to move for Papers. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, this is not a subject into which one can introduce any particular degree of glamour or exhilaration. It is a vast, complex, sombre and intractable problem, and, although it may not be the direct concern of this country, at the same time it affects so many Continental countries that no real stability can be restored to Europe until it has been at least substantially solved. I confess to some astonishment at the apparent failure of the Press and public, and I am inclined to add of Parliament itself, to appreciate either the immensity or the immediacy of this topic. The displaced persons referred to in this Motion are, of course, those who for different reasons or under different degrees of compulsion have been uprooted by the Germans from their homes and deported to other regions of their own countries, or to other German-occupied countries, or to the interior of the Reich itself.

The great majority of these people have been used as an almost bottomless reservoir of slave labour dedicated to the maintenance of the German war machine, either as members of the gigantic Todt organization, a vast labour service which has almost the proportions of an army itself, or as workers in the fields, factories, mines and forests producing materials of war. And side by side with that tremendous productivity there has been taking shape Hitler's New Order. The German leaves nothing to chance, and little to choice. His policy has been so to parcel out industry and agriculture that no country shall under either of those heads be self-sufficient but that all shall be inter-dependent upon each other, and at the same time subservient to the Reich itself. The implementing of that policy has, of course, required the wide distribution of labour, and these slaves, as they substantially are, have been herded like cattle from place to-place, as circumstances required and as labour shortage in any particular area or any particular industry prevailed.

At the same time, when the lay-out of industry was being devised, or the attentions of the Royal Air Force became too pressing, and it was decided to shift a factory from, say, Northern France to the once relative security of Czechoslovakia, it has been the practice that when that factory moved it should move accompanied by its entire directing staff and workers—taken up lock, stock and barrel, and deposited in its new home. Repeat that process a few hundred times, add to those slave workers civilian prisoners, persons in concentration camps, hostages, war fugitives, and the countless thousands who have been evicted from their homes in border lands, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Alsace, in order to make way for Nazi lords of creation to be installed as Wardens of the Marches of the Reich, and you have a very presentable imitation of the reign of chaos.

It is surely no extravagant conjecture that the German leaders, while planning the economic vassalage of Europe in the event of their victory, should at the same time have calculated that in the event of their defeat they would, by the use of these methods, leave behind them such a legacy of turmoil and travail for their conquerors as to frustrate for a long period of time their efforts to restore tranquillity to the liberated lands. According to an official estimate by the Allied Governments these conditions of organized deliberate upheaval affect something between 20,000,000 and 30,000,000 persons in Germany and German-occupied countries of Europe; and those 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 have to be identified, collected, sorted, fed, clothed and ultimately transported back to their homes—or what is left of them. For it is only too likely that in many cases there will be nothing and nobody to welcome and cherish them on their arrival, and that they will have to depend upon such relief as can be afforded them in food, shelter and clothing until the gradual and painful process of their rehabilitation can begin.

It is clearly the first essential that turn to their countries of these people shall not proceed according to their own devices and impulses, but that it shall be systematically controlled along carefully prepared lines; otherwise, the roads of Europe will be strewn with millions of desperate, exhausted, sick and starving people, and the hideous anarchy of the end of the Thirty Years' War will be re-enacted on an incomparably greater scale before our own eyes. But the mere mechanics of the undertaking are prodigious. It has been estimated that to transport home no more than the 1,800,000 Frenchmen believed to be still captive in Germany, would require no fewer than twenty-four trains a day for a period of ninety days, or some 2,160 trains in all. And they, after all, are only one-fifteenth part of the total, and concentrated in one country have to be moved to a neighbouring country; the rest, scattered over the face of Europe, require to be conveyed at a moment when railway lines are torn up, railway bridges destroyed, railway stations obliterated, and locomotives and rolling stock at a fantastic premium. The disease demands urgent remedy, for these people will be pining to get back to their own homes, and the process of their physical, moral and economic rehabilitation cannot begin until they are back in their own surroundings.

Moreover, impatient and resentful of delay, they may well prove a disturbing element in the country in which they are found, to which, after all, they represent no more than additional mouths to be fed at a time of acute dearth. Incidentally, if there is to be delay it is greatly to be hoped that every effort will be made to find them on the spot some work of however transient a character, in order that they may be kept employed in the interval, and not left with twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four in which to brood and fret over their fate. That, I believe, to be of immense importance. There is the further consideration that the countries of Europe will be anxious to reestablish their own economic life, and for that purpose to reassemble at the earliest moment their scattered nationals in order that they may make the fullest use of such resources as remain to them.

There is the problem in outline, one of infinite ramifications, humanitarian, social, economic and administrative; and so far not a great deal has been heard of steps taken and measures devised to solve the difficulties. Presumably, as in the case of relief, the first approach to the problem will come from the military authorities, whose task it will be to initiate action at least for the assembling and accommodating of these people, pending further developments. In the next stage—always assuming that it receives the necessary formal invitation—U.N.R.R.A. is supposed to come upon the scene. The only authority in actual possession and control of quantities of transport, supplies, medical stores; the only authority in actual control of manpower for the building of huts; the only authority in control of movement personnel, traffic control and police, is the military authorities; and if this problem is going to he effectually and speedily solved, I hope that, always provided that it shall not delay the demobilization of the Army, the putting into operation of such plans as there may be for the repatriation of these people will be left for the longest possible time in the hands of the Army, if these persons are to have any hope of being got back to their destinations.

In the recent debate on the war situation, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House assured us that it was not lack of administrative personnel that was hampering U.N.R.R.A.'s activities but lack of transport. If transport was insufficient even for the needs of relief, how are these unfortunate people to be got home? And if man-power was adequate for the distribution of relief, is the noble Viscount equally in a position to assure us that the man-power at U.N.R.R.A.'s disposal is sufficient to cope both with the problem of relief and with the problem of repatriation as well? For U.N.R.R.A., after all, once it has been invited, is charged with a three-fold problem: first, the provision of relief in the countries where the people are found; secondly, the task of transporting them home; and thirdly, the task of maintaining them in conditions of relief when they have arrived at their destination.

Here again, as in the case of relief which we discussed not long ago, there is this strange situation: that U.N.R.R.A., although it is not a private charitable organization but a great inter-govern mental agency, cannot come into a country unless it has been invited so to do by the Government concerned. At the Montreal Conference, held in September last, the Director-General of U.N.R.R.A., in his speech to the delegates, said this: Progress has been made towards the definition of the functions which the administration "— that is U.N.R.R.A.'s administration— is to perform in handling the displaced persons found in each liberated country. "Progress has been made towards the definition "—it does not somehow give a ring of great expeditiousness. He goes on to say that preliminary to such individual agreements a Multilateral Agreement between the United Nations has been devised and he adds that it is to be hoped that this agreement can soon be signed by the Governments concerned. It would be interesting to hear from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House how many countries in the interval since September have entered into definitive agreements of the sort referred to with the administration of U.N.R.R.A., and also how many signatures have been obtained of Governments to the Multilateral Agreement to which apparently the Director-General attached so much importance. It is fundamental to the solution of this grim and baffling problem that agreement should be properly and widely arrived at. One cannot avoid a suspicion that the matter is still hanging fire.

On the aspect of repatriation, two other queries arise. How is nationality to be decided? There will be amongst these persons large numbers possessing no documents at all. Others will be in possession of false documents, in which there has been an enormous trade in Europe under the German occupation. I understand the present project to be that each country concerned shall be called upon to admit a repatriation officer from each other country concerned, in order to examine the credentials of those claiming to be its nationals. I cannot feel any particular affection for the idea of that corps of itinerant inquisitors, who are apparently to be charged with the power of rejecting a man's claim to nationality because they dislike his face or his necktie or his accent, and condemning him thereby to permanent exile. Surely there should be some appeal against such rough injustice, or, better still, the original investigation should not be carried out by one individual but by a tribunal of three, one drawn from We country in which the man is found, one from the country of which he claims to be a national, and the third from a neutral country to preside. Only in that way can the individual hope for adequate protection.

The other question concerns those people who are of settled residence in a country but at the same time not of its actual nationality, although they may have lived there for many years and carried on their business there. To what country are those people to be repatriated —to the country of which they are settled residents or to the country of their former nationality? And if to the country of their settled residence, have those countries agreed to take them back? If there is an agreement of that kind, what for this purpose constitutes "settled residence" as distinct from "temporary sojourn"?

I have not yet exhausted all the bodies who are concerned in these various operations. There is still another which comes in, although no doubt on a more limited scale. I assume for this purpose that the principle is accepted that there shall be no repatriation of any individual against his will. If that principle be agreed, then there remains a residue of non-repatriables, responsibility for whom I understand to be vested in the Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees. It is the task of that Committee to provide for the ultimate destination of these persons, and from my own experience of similar problems in the years before the war it is no light or enviable task. The relation between U.N.R.R.A. and the Inter-Governmental Committee I understand to be this: that it is U.N.R.R.A.'s task to look after these persons for what is called a reasonable time and then hand them over to the Inter-Governmental Committee when the final arrangements are made. What, for a purpose of that kind, is a reasonable time, and who is to decide in a particular case whether or not a reasonable time has elapsed? If U.N.R.R.A. contends that it has performed its function for a reasonable time, and that contention is upheld, and at the same time the Inter-Governmental Committee is not yet ready to take over, whose is the responsibility for these unfortunates during We interregnum? Considering all these various bodies involved one is driven to the conclusion that too many cooks with too ill-defined spheres of influence have been engaged to spoil this particular broth, and while they are discussing between themselves which recipe to follow or responsibility for the preparation of the separate ingredients, the broth itself will probably have taken the initiative and incontinently boiled over.

As regards Stateless persons, those who upon racial, religious or political grounds have been deprived of their former citizenship by Germany or her satellites, I have only two questions to ask. So far as is known have those persons been given any effective papers of identification in place of those which have been removed from them? The second question is this: Is it the intention to extend to them the benefits of the Nansen scheme or some similar scheme so that they shall not live the rest of their lives as hunted wraiths without any recognized existence in the world? Again, at Montreal the Minister of State who represented Great Britain committed himself to an admission which is both startlingly frank and frankly startling. What he said was this: Apart from the question of supplies, there are one or two other practical matters which I think the Council ought to come to some decision upon before we leave Montreal. First of all there is the question of displaced persons. I think in general we have not realized until quite lately how extremely important that question is. In fact, if U.N.R.R.A. is able to organize the repatriation of those millions of unfortunate beings. U.N.R.R.A. with that alone will have done a job which justified its existence. As I say, there are practical decisions which have to be taken by this Council meeting if U.N.R.R.A. is going to be able to do that job, and I hope when those questions come up for decision we shall be able to act rightly and with decisive permanence.

A NOBLE LORD: Who said that?


Mr. Law, Minister of State. So far as I can ascertain the decisive permanence for which the Minister of State was hoping took the form of the passing of one additional resolution which extended the sphere of U.N.R.R.A.'s operations to include enemy and ex-enemy countries—no doubt a right decision, but one which very gravely added to the already burdensome weight upon U.N.R.R.A.'s shoulders, and at the same time emphasized the necessity for definite and detailed plans in preference to nebulous benevolence. Resolu- tions may be such stuff as schemes are made of, but they do not put clothes on men's backs or food into their mouths or a roof over their heads or warmth into their bones or provide transport to carry them home. When the U.N.R.R.A. conference took place this war had been going on for five years and it had long been abundantly and increasingly apparent what the problem was, what the immense scale and complexity of it was and how necessary it was that plans should be made for its solution.

I have put this Motion down in the hope of eliciting from the Government how far even now they and other member Governments of U.N.R.R.A. have awakened to the urgency of this problem; how far plans really exist in any concrete form for dealing with the situation; and how far we are expected to take seriously their support of U.N.R.R.A. when for a period of six months the vital post of Deputy Director-General of U.N.R.R.A., rendered vacant by the resignation of Sir Arthur Salter, has never been filled. A problem of this size cannot be tackled by last-moment inspirations or piecemeal palliatives. I believe, and I hope that your Lordships in general and His Majesty's Government in particular will share the belief, that unless plans to meet this situation have been carefully preconcerted, ready to be put into operation swiftly and effectually when the moment comes, the seeds of peace in Europe will have been planted in sterile and infected soil. I beg to move.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure I speak for the whole of your Lordships in saying that we are grateful to the noble Marquess for drawing attention to a question of such tremendous importance and indeed urgency. I only hope his words be passed on by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to his colleagues in the Government who are more directly responsible for this state of affairs. It is of course not only a British responsibility or even a British Empire responsibility. This is a matter affecting the whole of the United Nations and above all of course the three principal Powers. The noble Marquess referred to the Nansen scheme after the last war. I share with him a great admiration for the late Dr. Nansen, with whom I had a long friendship. I suppose no man did more for suffering humanity in those years immediately after the last war than that great Norwegian. The noble Marquess referred to the question of people who have lost documents of identity and so on. The failure in this respect that followed the last war was due to the fact that the States concerned did not recognize the Nansen scheme and the Governments concerned did not play the game in regard to it.

The noble Marquess has dealt with a matter which will become urgent in the near future. A great deal of the problem cannot be tackled until the fighting of the major battles has ceased on the Continent of Europe, but I hope that when that moment comes there will be a complete change of attitude towards this question. I can best describe perhaps what I am hoping will happen by relating to your Lordships a conversation I had with a survivor from the troop ship "Arandora Star," which was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic when carrying German and Italian prisoners of war to Canada. Before the ship was torpedoed there were on board Italian prisoners and German prisoners who had looked on each other with hostility, and the Italians were divided into Fascists and Anti-Fascists. There were also on board British guards and British seamen. Five minutes after that ship had sunk and when the survivors were struggling in the water all distinction of nationality was lost; they were all helping each other to survive, to live. I hope that when the main battles end in Europe a similar spirit will actuate all the nations concerned. This frightful problem will have to be dealt with drastically and urgently. With all respect to the noble Marquess I hope it will not be dealt with by such people as Mr. Ernest Brown.

I propose to deal only with a section of this very large problem and to refer in a few words to the position of the refugees, mostly Jewish, in the Balkans and in other countries. Those countries have been liberated either by the Russians or our own Armies or by partisans, and the problem is immediately before us. The noble Marquess said that some 20,000,000 or 30,000,000 people were concerned. The majority of them will not have countries to go back to. The trouble is that the majority of the refugees in the Balkans come from Hungary and Germany and cannot go back. I imagine that very few of the Jews surviving from Hitler's persecution have any wish to go back to Germany. Many of them are survivors of the original Jewish communities in the satellite countries; for example, Rumania and Bulgaria. It would be very difficult for them to be absorbed in those countries where they are now refugees.

According to my information at least 80 per cent. of them are willing and anxious to go to Palestine and arrangements have been made in Palestine to house them and find employment for them. Accordingly, the difficulties occasioned by problems of work and houses and the slowness of the military do not arise. About 700,000 are affected and that number will increase. Employment is waiting for them and houses are waiting for them. When they get to Palestine a number of them, the fit young men, will be eligible and, I am sure, willing to join His Majesty's Forces. We shall need manpower in Europe for some considerable time and of course there is the Eastern war to be taken into account as well. If these people reach Palestine the younger men at any rate can be recruited for Jewish brigades. In the neutral States and the States outside our sphere of influence —I apologize to the noble Viscount for the term because I know he will deny we have spheres of influence—we might have difficulty in recruiting these men for the Forces, but when once they get to Palestine there will be no difficulty. There are 10,000 in Greece, 25,000 in Italy, 310,000 in Rumania and Transylvania, 450,000 in Bulgaria, 180,000 in France, and 22,000 in Belgium. Some of those I have referred to are of course indigenous.

The Vichy Government, under stimulus from the Nazis, deprived the Jews wherever they could of their property, their possessions and their employment, and rendered them almost outlaws. Their places have been taken by French shopkeepers, business men, professional men and so on. The Vichy Government has been displaced but there is difficulty in persuading these little non-Jewish business men, who have taken over businesses and property, to restore them to their original owners. The result is that you have a large Jewish community there, suffering just as much from economic distress as any of those referred to by the noble Marquess. Of refugees in the accepted sense of the word there are 13,000 in Sweden and 26,000 in Switzerland. This problem is not as big as it might have been. There were, in the parts of Europe which came under Axis domination, about 6,000,000 Jews. There are only about 1,000,000 left. One of Hitler's war aims has been nearly achieved. It is unnecessary for me to dwell on the cruelty with which this extermination has been carried out of 5,000,000 people. The whole world is aware of the enormity of the crime.

But how about the surviving million? Most of them are impoverished, homeless, workless, with little prospect of resettlement in the territories where they used to live or in the new territories where they are refugees. Are we going to allow the complete achievement of Hitler's war aim by leaving this million to their fate? Of course we shall not. The British public would not permit it. The trouble is that in the onrush of great events, with the great panorama of history passing before our eyes, these people are forgotten. The newspapers are reduced in size and the B.B.C., as we know, is completely under the Government; so these facts are overlooked, and these people are forgotten. In due course, as the noble Marquess said, U.N.R.R.A. will get to work and provide clothing and food to relieve immediate necessities, or it will be done, as it ought to be done, by the military authorities. But these people will still remain outlaws without an economic niche in the countries where they found refuge. On the other hand, if we allow them to go to Palestine—and the barriers against it are purely artificial—they can be established at once, and the task of U.N.R.R.A. and of the military authorities will be relieved to that extent.

In Rumania alone there are 50,000 candidates for emigration to Palestine and there are 30,000 in Bulgaria. These people are destitute, helpless and homeless. Their only hope is to go to Palestine. They cannot be reabsorbed in the Balkan countries. The present quota of visas to Palestine is 1,500 a month and that is now exhausted. There was an original quota under what was known as the White Paper—the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, will remember that because he was a member of the Cabinet—of 75,000 emigrants to be allowed into Palestine. Those 75,000 permits have now been used up. May I ask the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House—I gave him notice of this, not very long, but some hours—what is proposed to be done now? The 75,000 permits under the 'White Paper issued by Viscount Templewood and his friends, have been used up, and conditions now are entirely different. I think that number would never have been agreed to if it had been known what was going to happen, but the 75,000 have been used up. What is going to happen now?

I am not discussing—for this is not the occasion for it—future policy in regard to Palestine. This is a matter affecting the United Nations. This particular matter of these helpless people is extremely urgent and we must have an immediate policy. This is an administrative matter; it is a matter which would be raised in Committee of Supply in another place. Many obstacles, apart from this very meagre ration of permits of admission to Palestine, have been put in the way of the rescue of fugitives from Nazi oppression. During the last year or two we have had from spokesmen of the Government, particularly from the Foreign Secretary who spoke at times with tears in his voice, heart-rending accounts of what has been going on, and assurances that we would do anything that lay in our power to save these people from Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers. But, in actual practice, many obstacles have been put in the way of their reaching sanctuary. For example, in July, 1943, it was decided that the Jews who escaped from Nazi oppression and who succeeded in reaching Turkey—they managed to get through underground channels from the Balkans—should be granted visas for Palestine. But the Turkish Government was not informed of this until June, 1944; that is to say eleven months later. So eleven months was lost, and I do not know how many people have perished in the interval.

Particularly would I ask the noble Viscount if there is any relaxation proposed in the near future for the orphaned Jewish children. I am sorry to see that the Bench of Bishops has been somewhat depleted since the House first met as I had hoped for strong support from the Church on this particular matter. The Churches in France and Switzerland, of all denominations, have done wonderful work in caring for these Jewish children. I am sure that humanity can be grateful for all time to the religious houses of France for the great and splendid efforts they have made in this cause. There are 15,000 of these children in France, 2,500 in Belgium, 1,000 in Switzerland and large numbers in liberated Poland and other countries. There is an exceptional number of orphaned Jewish children for a special reason. At one time the Nazis in France did not send orphaned Jewish children to the Polish concentration camps and gas chambers, and many hundreds of Jewish mothers committed suicide in order to save their children. What is going to be done about this? There are arrangements made for them to be received, to be taken care of, brought up, educated and made into useful citizens in Palestine. Is the door to remain closed? If so, how is that justified?

As I said, the conditions in which Lord Templewood and his colleagues drew up a temporary policy for Palestine have been completely altered by the events of the last five years. There was not this problem, or any problem of this kind, then. I hope that Lord Templewood when he speaks will support my plea. I hope that I can rely upon his advocacy here, in this most important matter. I fully support, and my noble friends have asked me to say that they do also, Lord Reading's main thesis, but on this particular question I would make a special appeal to the Government to see that these Stateless, homeless Jews who are now living in distress and poverty, particularly in the Balkans, and who will perish if something is not done for them, are allowed to go to the only country where they have a legal right to settle under the Mandate, and that is Palestine. I only hope that my poor arguments will have some result in helping some of these poor people, and that the much more eloquent plea made by the noble Marquess for a change of policy may have its effect.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am emboldened to make a few observations upon the Resolution, which has been so eloquently moved by the noble Marquess, as the result of certain definite experiences which I have had over a number of years, and particularly in the last four and a half years in Spain. I cannot help remembering that, at the end of the last war, I had the privilege of helping the League of Nations with the settlement of 30,000 refugees in Eastern Europe. Incidentally, my memory of those months does not confirm the criticism made by Lord Strabolgi of the so-called Nansen passport. My experiences may have been exceptional, but I did, at that time, find the Nansen passports invaluable for the refugees with whom I was dealing.


If my noble friend had had to travel on one of those passports himself he would have found things very different.


I can only state what my own memory is. Perhaps my noble friend the Earl of Perth, when he speaks, will either confirm or criticize what I have said. Subsequently, when I was at the Home Office I had to deal with the difficult problem of the migration of Jewish refugees from Germany. There, I cannot help regretting the fact that I was not successful in the attempt that I made to settle in this country a great many more Jewish professional men—and particularly Jewish doctors —whose services, I believe, would have been invaluable to the Allied effort at the present time. Then I come to my experiences in Spain. Dealing with refugees and escaped prisoners of war was one of my principal duties. During the time I was at Madrid about 60,000 escaped prisoners of war and refugees crossed the Pyrenees and passed into Spain. It was my responsibility and the responsibility of my Mission to facilitate their passage, and to prevent their being thrown back into the hands of the Gestapo for expulsion once again back into German-occupied territory. I am glad to say that my staff succeeded with this difficult task.

We passed through Spain many thousands of Allied prisoners of war, and we also passed varied crowds of every type of refugee—men, women and children of all nationalities, Christians and Jews, and including curious groups such, for instance, as the Jews from Salonika, who had been settled there since the sixteenth century, still talking the Spanish language and maintaining Spanish habits, and also numbers of Stateless persons for whom we had to provide guarantees and passports. As I say, I am glad to think that with possibly only one exception none of these refugees was allowed to drift back into German hands. It was a hard battle. The Germans were claiming to have them returned. I should like to pay a tribute to the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Jordana, now unfortunately dead, with whom I was dealing, and who throughout those difficult months and years maintained a firm front against the German demands.

This cross-section of escaped prisoners and refugees of all sorts left upon my mind a vivid impression of the complexity and the magnitude of the problem with which Europe is faced. The noble Marquess spoke of 30,000,000 displaced men and women. I believe that figure is below the mark. This is one of the greatest problems which has ever faced Europe—these 30,000,000 men and women torn from their homes, as the noble Marquess said, with their homes probably destroyed, themselves physically weak and often physically mutilated by the treatment to which they have been subjected, having lived for months and years terribly abnormal, inhuman lives, without hope, without even the hope of the prisoner who looks forward to the end of his sentence. They have lived the lives of slaves and of beasts of burden. It is not necessary to elaborate this terrible picture; the noble Marquess has said enough to show how immense is the problem which now confronts us.

When I come to the methods with which we are attempting to deal with it, I cannot help reaching the conclusion that they are totally inadequate. I make no criticism of the personnel who are engaged upon this work; for all I know they may be excellent, but what they are doing is upon a scale altogether inadequate for the magnitude of the problem. There is U.N.R.R.A., from what I can judge (and I speak without inside knowledge), either unable or unwilling to realize the urgency and the magnitude of these problems. There is also what is called the Inter-Departmental Government Committee, a Committee which I helped to set up when I was Home Secretary, an excellent Committee for the purposes of seven or eight years ago, with a personnel against whom I make no criticism, but without adequate directive from the top and without adequate means at its disposal.

I venture to impress upon the noble Viscount who is to reply that what is needed is that the three great Allied Leaders should take cognizance of the urgency of this question, that they should announce a common policy, and that they should give a directive to the organizations concerned. As things are at present, I am doubtful whether any such directive has been given. Have the Allies a common policy? Have they a common policy upon the question already raised by the noble Marquess and by the noble Lord who preceded me, as to the categories of refugees that they are prepared to admit or whose admission they intend to refuse? I could give you a list of questions of that kind, but I shall not weary the House with them. What is urgently needed is a united Allied policy, stating clearly the obligations that the great Allies are ready to undertake and placing at the disposal of the various organizations sufficient material means for that policy to be carried out.

It may be that my own experiences in Spain were exceptional and not fully representative of all that has been happening. I can only say that time after time in Spain I felt the need of quick decisions and speedy action. I will give noble Lords two examples taken from my own experience. I was confronted with the arrival of these thousands of refugees. The Spanish Government were naturally somewhat hesitant as to whether they could receive them, and they wanted to know who was going to maintain them. They also wanted to know how long they were going to remain in Spain. From my own point of view it was necessary for me to attempt to sift the refugees into various categories. For instance, it was urgently necessary for us to do our utmost to sift out the German agents who were introduced into Spain under the guise of refugees, and of these German agents there were many. I had no staff at my disposal adequate for the separation of these thousands of men and women into the appropriate categories. On that account, I pressed upon the Government here that a camp should be set up in North Africa, which was then already in our occupation, where the sifting could be effectively done. I was convinced that if such a camp were once set up I could pass these men and women quickly through Spain and the necessary sifting could be done in North Africa with the staff which was at the disposal of the Allies. Everybody agreed to my proposal; indeed, I think they thought it was a very good one; yet month after month —I think I am right in saying year after year—passed and that camp was not set up.

I can give another instance, an instance that bears upon the question just raised by Lord Strabolgi, the instance of the Jewish refugees who were to go to Palestine. A number of these Jewish refugees came through Spain. The appropriate associations sent out their representatives to investigate their cases, and in course of time a category was created of persons to whom permits were given to go to Palestine. So far as I know, there was no difference of opinion about these permits; the various authorities were all agreed. Yet for month after month we could never coordinate the arrival of these Jews at the ports, the arrival of ships at the ports to take them to Palestine, and the permits for their actual admission into Palestine. Here again, I make no criticism against any individuals: I quote the instance to show how necessary it is in all these matters, great and small, to have a directive at the top, and to have a directive that insists constantly upon the extreme urgency of these problems.

I have said this much on the material side of the problem—the transport, the feeding the resettlement of these tragic people; but in my view the material side of the problem, immense as it is, is less complicated than the moral one. As I said just now, these men and women have, for year after year, been living in absolutely inhuman conditions. It does not need a psychologist to say what reactions this tragic period may have had upon them. There were many instances within my own knowledge. Many of these men and women were in an abnormal state, and I considered that it would take months and perhaps years of care and trouble before once again they could become normal citizens. Let me give your Lordships a single instance, the instance of a prisoner of war who escaped into Spain. He was a very gallant officer, with a magnificent military record, covered with every decoration for gallantry. He escaped, he passed through terrible adventures, he endured an incredible physical strain. He was of invaluable help to the other British prisoners of war who were with him. He arrived on the frontier, and on the night of his arrival he wrote a letter to his wife saying that his whole life had been a failure, that he had committed the unforgivable sin of betraying his companions who had accompanied him out of Germany into Spain, and he was going to end his life. He killed himself that night. There was not a word of truth in any of those suspicions with which he had convinced himself: he was suffering from an illusion. There was a man of strong physical resistance, who had the courage to make his escape across Europe—the kind of man who of all others, one would have hoped, could have resisted such an illusion. If that can happen to such a man we can imagine the individual illusions and the mass illusions from which thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of these men and women on the Continent of Europe are suffering to-day, and will suffer, it may be for months and years to come.


And the children, too.


And the children, too. On that account I do press the Government not to ignore this side of the problem. And, side by side with an organkration fitted to act quickly and upon a broad front, there should also be an organization (shall I call it of welfare?) for these sufferers, an organization that may have to be kept in being for months and years to come. I am sure, from the experiences that have had from day to day in Spain, that unless we concentrate upon this side of the problem these millions of men and women, after this inhuman and abnormal period, to put it at its lowest, will be a continual source of unrest to the future of Europe.

In conclusion, I look back to the years between the two wars and to the attempts that we made, some of us it may be unsuccessfully, to resettle the Continent. Looking back with the dispassionate eye almost of a historian, I come to the conclusion that the fundamental mistake that we made in those years was to think of our problem in political and territorial terms. We did not realize that Europe had been passing through one of the great upheavals in its history, an upheaval that left behind every kind of moral problem. I venture to say to this House, let us not repeat that mistake; let us realize that, great as may be the problem of the material relief of these men, women and children, their moral welfare is more important. I hope I have said enough to show my deep sympathy with the objective of the noble Marquess. I hope I have said enough to show that I make these observations in no spirit of carping criticism I realize the immense difficulties of the problem, but I feel that here we are dealing with one of the central problems of the future, and that it is essential, if we are to confront it with any success, that the organization of the United Nations should be upon a much greater scale than it is at present, and should take into account the extreme urgency and difficulty of the questions with which we are faced.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I find it extremely difficult to follow the noble Viscount, who has just made a speech, based on experience, which has aroused, I think, not only your Lordships' sincere sympathy but even emotion. I do want, however, very briefly to support the plea so eloquently put forward by the noble Marquess when moving the Motion which is on the Order Paper. Now the Motion divides certain persons on the Continent of Europe into two categories—displaced persons and Stateless persons. Both those categories have one thing in common: they will both require food, relief and clothes. But the first category, the displaced persons, do have one enormous advantage: they have a country to which to look forward, their home, while the Stateless persons have nothing. It is therefore the latter problem which, to my mind, is the most critical, and it is the one with which I should like very shortly to deal.

Of course, the numbers are quite different. It is clear that the displaced persons are far more numerous than the Stateless persons. Nevertheless, if we judge from what happened after the last war, the problem of Stateless persons can become very acute. It became very acute then because these persons were numerous and no provision of any kind had been made for the position in which they found themselves. Naturally, owing to this lack of provision, they had no passports, they were unable to travel and were in a state of great trouble and unhappiness. The matter was taken up, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has reminded us, by Dr. Nansen, and by his untiring efforts for a long time he did succeed in securing the issue to these Stateless persons of what were known as Nansen passports. And here I venture to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi: those passports really were very effective in the end because they were recognized by the vast majority of the countries who were members of the League of Nations—at that time I think there were something like fifty. It is perfectly true it was not very easy to travel with them. Why? Because the passport official is a most suspicious being. These passports were new and he took a long time examining them; he probably had the people out of the trains and put them through a grilling. Still, the passports were recognized and ultimately were of the greatest value to these poor people. By those passports they were entitled to travel and also to have the protection of the Nansen organization. Up to this point, however, there was great misery, and in my view it is very important that steps should be taken now to avoid the recurrence of a situation of that kind. We cannot obviously to-day estimate the numbers of those people who will become Stateless after the war, but they are not likely anyhow to be less than they were after the war of 1918.

Now one thing is quite certain: it cannot do any harm and I believe it will be of very great benefit if proper arrangements were now made to cope with this problem. It is in the years immediately after the cessation of hostilities that the problem becomes so difficult. After many years these people tend to settle down; sometimes they become naturalized in the different countries, the scope of the difficulty is less, and really automatically the problem solves itself. What you do want, however, is to allow these people to travel freely, so that they can ultimately find a country of their own where they and their families can settle. For that purpose passports are essential and the passports should be recognized. I therefore trust that the Governments—and I quite agree with what the previous speaker has said, that it is not only His Majesty's Government but the Governments of the United Nations—will give this problem of Stateless persons immediate consideration. I do not mind a bit whether the task is undertaken by U.N.R.R.A. or by the Inter-Governmental Refugees Committee —that is not the point. The point is that there shall be a central organization which is dealing with it and which shall take the responsibility and have the authority to execute its decisions. Personally I think that as the mantle of Dr. Nansen has fallen on the High Commissioner for Refugees, he would be the proper person for the task, but I should not think of pressing that view, because the real question, as I say, is that there shall be a responsible body which shall act at once.


You want a tiger.


Well, a wise tiger and a tactful tiger; if you can get one, so much the better. I do hope, therefore, if I may say this final word, that His Majesty's Government will take the initiative, if necessary, in urging that this problem shall be put before the Council of the United Nations, and that their representative on whatever body they think fit will take a leading part in endeavouring to get the matter settled and to put a finish to this human misery.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think no one who listened to the moving and eloquent speech with which the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, introduced this debate, can have any doubt of the single-minded purpose which inspired him in putting down his Motion, or of his passionate desire to find some practical solution to what I would fully agree is one of the most tragic problems of these very tragic times. I think the debate has fully maintained the high level which the noble Marquess himself set. We must all welcome very warmly this debate, for two reasons. First of all, it calls attention to a vast problem which is too often overshadowed by immediate political or military developments but which will need to be handled, quite obviously, after those developments have passed over Europe; and secondly, it gives us an opportunity, I think, of explaining and putting into their right focus some aspects both of the problem itself and of the manner in which it is being tackled.

The Motion, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said in his speech, deals with two categories, displaced persons and Stateless persons; but he would be, I am sure, the first to agree that those two categories cannot, in fact, be divided into watertight compartments. Numbers of displaced persons are, of course, Stateless, and the vast proportion of Stateless persons have, in fact, been displaced by the war. The two categories dovetail into each other. The problem, as I see it, might perhaps be stated in this way. As a result of the war there are millions of Europeans (for the purpose of the Motion as I understand it we are dealing with Europe only) who have been forcibly deported from their countries or homes or who have fled to avoid a worse fate. The total figure has been mentioned in the debate this afternoon of 20,000,000 or 30,000,000. I do not know if that is a correct figure, but I think we can take it for certain that the total runs into many millions. Very large numbers of these unhappy people are still in enemy hands. Considerable numbers have been found in what is now liberated territory, and others have succeeded in reaching, or have been helped to reach, territory never occupied by the enemy at all. The ultimate problem as regards all these displaced persons—and it is only with them I am at present dealing—is this: Can they be repatriated to their countries of origin or returned to their homes? If they cannot, what is to be their future? Are they to stay where they are or are they to go elsewhere?

The features of the problem are well known to your Lordships, but before I go any further I might make two general observations. First of all, I would like to say a word about the Jews, which occupied the main part of the speech delivered to your Lordships by Lord Strabolgi this afternoon—a speech, if he will allow me to say so, rather more sweeping in its assertions than accurate. The noble Lord asked certain questions and I am very glad to give him the answers, so far as I am in a position to do so. He stated as a fact, or at least so I understood him, that the quotas for Palestine were now completely exhausted; and he built the whole of a very powerful argument upon that fact. But in fact the quotas are not exhausted. I am very glad to be able to relieve his mind on that point. This is the position. In September last the Jewish Agency asked His Majesty's Government that 10,300 places should be made available for migration to Palestine. That request, as the noble Lord knows, was granted in full, but a necessary limit was placed of 1,500 immigrants a month. This was done for purely practical reasons—the housing situation in Palestine and the possibility of serious difficulties in the economic sphere if the immigrants came in too rapidly. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said to-day that there was no housing shortage in Palestine. I really think he must have been misinformed. In fact, there is a perfectly appalling housing shortage in Palestine.


I did not say that. I am sure the noble Viscount does not want to misrepresent me. I said that arrangements have been made to accommodate these people by putting them in camps and that sort of thing for the time being.


The noble Lord said, as I understood, that there was no housing problem.


No difficulty about accommodating these people.


There is in fact an extremely severe housing shortage, and in addition the economic position of Palestine does not allow at present of a very rapid accumulation of immigrants. No doubt, they can be brought in gradually but there must be a limitation in the number that can be absorbed at any one time. As a result of the decision which was reached last October and the agreement between His Majesty's Government and the Jewish Agency, there are numbers of immigrants who are going in there at the present time. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the situation which will arise after next May is one that clearly requires the most careful consideration, which is being given to it. But I am not, I am afraid, as your Lordships will understand, in a position to make any announcement about that to-day. I recognize, as Lord Strabolgi does, that there are very large numbers of Jews from Rumania and Bulgaria in addition to other categories to which he referred this afternoon, who want to go to Palestine. But of course the question as to which particular Jews go to Palestine and where they are to come from is a matter not for His Majesty's Government but for the Jewish Agency itself, to whom the power of selection, as the House knows, has been entrusted. No doubt they will choose those Jews whom they think would be of greatest benefit to Palestine or whose danger in Europe is the most acute.

I seemed to detect at one moment in the noble Lord's speech an attempt to extend the discussion into a debate on the future policy of His Majesty's Government towards Palestine. I hope he will forgive me, if that was was not his intention. In any case, I think it is clear that this is not the proper time for that. I cannot emphasize too strongly that the problem which we are discussing to-day, the refugee problem, is not solely or even mainly concerned with the Jews. It is a much more general problem than that. Naturally, no one would deny that the miseries of this war and of the years leading up to it have borne more hardly upon people of the Jewish race than upon others, but it would be wrong to think we can deal with Jews as a quite distinct body of persons from their fellow citizens who have been deported or displaced. It would be untrue and it would also, I think, be wrong.

Secondly, my Lords, I was very glad to hear what Lord Reading said this afternoon as to the necessity for international control of the movement of displaced persons, whether in the direction of repatriation or in the way of resettlement. I am quite certain he is right that the international method on this question is the only really effective method. The problem and the numbers involved are so great that they must be handled in an orderly manner and, where at all possible, in groups, or we shall merely get chaos. It follows logically that this is a matter to be handled internationally and on a comprehensive basis rather than by a series of ad hoc measures or agreements. It may be argued that the problem is pressing and that international machinery is in its nature too slow and ponderous. I think that was rather the view of Lord Reading himself this afternoon; but against that the complications which are likely to follow attempts to deal with the matter unilaterally or even bilaterally—except in rare cases where the probem is clearly defined and of limited scope—are obvious. The situation to which the noble Marquess has called attention is therefore that there are at present in liberated territories very large numbers of displaced persons—I will deal with the Stateless problem later—and the noble Marquess asked what is being done or what is going to be done for these unhappy people. He enumerated the following agencies as being intimately concerned. First, the military authorities; then U.N.R.R.A.; and thirdly the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees, in the case of non-repatriables. He also I think drew attention to the question of agreements which have been or may be concluded between the Governments concerned.

I would like, if I may, to answer him briefly on all these points. As your Lordships are aware, the military authorities are of course under present arrangements in complete control in forward operational zones and in the so-called military period before territory is handed back to the civil Government. I dealt with that in the debate on the war situation last week. This, as I said last week, may he of longer or shorter duration according to the particular circumstances of the country concerned. It is open to the military authorities to employ U.N.R.R.A. to handle under their control displaced persons, provided that the Governments concerned agree to U.N.R.R.A. being employed to handle their nationals as well as displaced persons who have become Stateless. I got the impression from the noble Marquess's speech that he rather resented U.N.R.R.A. being dependent upon an invitation from the country concerned, but surely it would be impossible to impose an international organization of this kind upon any country. If a country is ready to receive it, the organization should be available; but I do not think it would be possible to impose an international organization upon a sovereign State.


My point on that was that U.N.R.R.A. is itself the result of an agreement between a number of Governments, and one would expect that the Governments in agreeing to create U.N.R.R.A. would automatically be giving their consent to U.N.R.R.A. going in to function in the respective countries.


I quite agree. One might have expected it, but it has not worked out that way. In North-Western Europe, both in enemy territory and in forward operational zones in Allied territory, U.N.R.R.A. will thus be employed under the terms of an agreement signed by Governor Lehman and 1 General Eisenhower on November 25 last. Once the United Nations' territory has been liberated by the Allied Forces and has been handed back to the civil Government—that is the second stage—it rests under the terms of the U.N.R.R.A. Charter, with the Government concerned whether or not to invite U.N.R.R.A. in to handle the problem of displaced persons found within that territory. It is the Governments themselves who are primarily responsible. It is only if they invite U.N.R.R.A. that U.N.R.R.A. can come and assist. I am not altogether clear what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, meant when he referred to "definitive agreements between Governments and U.N.R.R.A." There are, so far as I know, no agreements dealing specifically with displaced persons. Possibly what he had in mind was that the French, Belgian, Luxemburg, Dutch, Norwegian, Czechoslovak, Polish and Greek Governments had expressed a wish to receive U.N.R.R.A. liaison missions. I do not know if it was those that he meant.


I hesitate to interrupt again but the noble Viscount asks me what I was referring to. I was referring to a speech by the Director-General himself at Montreal where he said progress had been made towards a definition of the functions which the administration of U.N.R.R.A. had to perform in regard to displaced persons found in liberated countries, although no definitive agreements had as yet been reached. I took that to mean that it was expected agreements would be reached.


Agreements have not been reached, as far as I know. The missions to which I have referred would, of course, cover, among other things, displaced persons. There are already U.N.R.R.A. missions of this kind at Paris and Luxemburg and no doubt there will be others added at a later date.

The noble Marquess also asked about the Multilateral Agreement concerning the care and repatriation of displaced persons. The scope of this agreement briefly is that each contracting party, while retaining full control over displaced persons within its own territory, agrees to take certain steps designed to secure orderly repatriation and to admit missions from other United Nations, for the purpose of identifying and assisting their nationals, and from U.N.R.R.A., for the purpose of carrying out similar tasks in respect of displaced persons with whom U.N.R.R.A. is authorized to deal. The noble Marquess seemed to have the impression that this agreement has entirely hung fire. Perhaps he did not intend that.


I asked whether anybody had signed.


I will give him the facts. The agreement negotiated under U.N.R.R.A.'s auspices, has been accepted by Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Holland, Norway, Poland and Yugoslavia, and it is to be signed in London on behalf of those Governments on February 20. The noble Marquess also asked about individual agreement between Governments—not between Governments and U.N.R.R.A. but bilateral agreements between Governments —to deal with the repatriation of each other's displaced nationals found in the other's territory. There are at present five such bilateral agreements, one between France and Czechoslovakia, one between France and Luxemburg, one between France and Belgium, one between France and Holland and one between Belgium and Holland. These are, a matter primarily for the Governments immediately concerned, but perhaps I may make one general observation. I would not suggest for one moment that bilateral agreements of this kind are intended to conflict or indeed do conflict with the Multilateral Agreement of which I have spoken. But the fact must be faced that to the extent that they clearly prefer direct two-way handling of the problem to a more comprehensive handling under U.N.R.R.A. auspices, they do weaken the intention underlying the Multilateral Agreement. It is, I think, at least arguable that what is gained by a direct and relatively rapid handling of a matter which two Governments can deal with on their own, is outweighed by the fact that attempts to deal with what is fundamentally an international problem on an international basis, are thereby weakened.

Let me now come back to the problem of the ultimate repatriability of displaced persons, since it is to this end that all U.N.R.R.A.'s activities with regard to the displaced persons must primarily be directed. It is, I think, generally recognized that when groups of displaced persons turn up in the course of military operations or afterwards, it will not be immediately possibly to establish what proportion of them will be repatriable. That is a practical point, as your Lordships will recognize. Repatriation depends on a number of factors. It depends, for instance, upon whether the Government of the country of which they are nationals, or where they had their place of settled residence, is prepared to receive them back. If not, of course U.N.R.R.A. has no power to compel them to go back. Again, conditions in the country of origin, the countries from which they originally came, may be so disturbed that it would be dangerous, or for other reasons impossible, for them to return. No doubt displaced persons will be encouraged or expected to return home as this becomes practicable and in a suitable order of priority, or unless there are very strong reasons to operate against this. During the intervening period, they will remain an U.N.R.R.A. responsibility and, as the Minister of State explained in another place on October 11, U.N.R.R.A. has already agreed at Atlantic City to assist in their maintenance for "a reasonable period even after it has been proved that they are not repatriable, until they can be moved to resettlement elsewhere."

The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, raised this point of "reasonable period" this afternoon. He asked what is a reasonable period and who is to determine it. He will remember that, at Atlantic City, the closest consultation was enjoined between U.N.R.R.A. and the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees within whose field the problem of resettlement as opposed to repatriation lies. The two bodies are, in fact, in the closest touch on this and other points, and I can assure the noble Marquess they will do all that is possible to see that satisfactory arrangements are made on this question. Perhaps it may also be convenient if I deal here with the point made by the noble Marquess with regard to the future of persons "of settled residence" before the war though not possessing the actual nationality of the country of residence. A very good case in point is that of Poles living in. France, of whom there are a considerable number. This also was considered at the Atlantic City meeting of the U.N.R.R.A.'s Council and is dealt with in a provision of the Multilateral Agreement to which I have already referred. Under this provision the signatories of the agreement while they can give no absolute or general guarantee to readmit all such persons into their territory, undertake to meet any requests they may receive for their readmission in a spirit of wide humanity. Thus the principle to which the noble Marquess attaches importance is accepted. I think he asked what period would qualify for readmission to their own countries.


What constitutes settled residence?


There is no specific period. I have made inquiries and I understand that it is recognized that it must be for individual countries to decide for themselves what decision they may reach on this matter. I do not think it would be possible—I am only expressing a personal view—for any international body to compel nations to take back people who are not their nationals. One might ask them to take back their own nationals, but these are people who have never acquired the nationality of the country in which they have lived. It is impossible for any international body to compel nations to take them back. Nations will have to make whatever arrangements they think right with regard to this particular category. Until these people are repatriated they will presumably have to remain the responsibility of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees.

And now I would say a word about those people who, in the jargon which has grown up round this subject, are known as "non-repatriables." It is a terrible expression, but your Lordships will know what it means. It is clear from what I have said to-day that, in the best of circumstances, the number of non-repatriable displaced persons will be very considerable, running perhaps into hundreds of thousands. To them will doubtless have to be added a large proportion of those persons who, even before the war, had been obliged to leave their homes for reasons of race, religion, or political belief. Among these are to be found the bulk of those persons who have become Stateless—that category to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred in his speech. In the last resort, non-repatriability ultimately implies resettlement, either in the country of temporary refuge or elsewhere, and the bulk of non-repatriable people (including those whom Allied Governments will be unwiling to allow to return to their countries on the ground of their war-time activities), will thus come within the field of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees.

That body, of which Lord Perth, I think, had very long experience at one time, and whose work in connexion with refugees, allied to that of the League High Commissioner for Refugees, dates back to a considerable time before the war, has now considerably expanded its work under the wide authority given it as the result of the Bermuda Conference of 1943. It has already a representative in Paris, and the Belgian Government have, in principle, accepted the appointment of a representative in Brussels. It has also one in Italy attached to the Displaced Persons Sub-Committee of the Allied Control Commission, and one in the Middle East. The Inter-Governmental Committee has been very active in several directions. Besides keeping a close eye on the well-being of the large numbers of refugees who already came within its mandate before the war, it has been concerned with relief and rescue measure in connexion with those still in enemy hands, and in investigating on the spot, in liberated countries, the situation with regard to persons of former German and Austrian nationality—at present Stateless—who are now found there, and of other groups who, if they cannot he repatriated or returned to their homes or absorbed where they are, will eventually need to be resettled. It is worth mentioning that the United Kingdom and United States Governments are jointly responsible for the financial implications of the Committee's operations, and that all its operational schemes are submitted to them for approval. I have already explained what is intended to be the eventual delimitation of work, in connexion with displaced persons, as between U.N.R.R.A. and the Inter-Governmental Committee as recognized at Atlantic City.

There remain a few miscellaneous questions which have been raised in the debate, and which seem to me to require some answer. I think it was the noble Marquess Lord Reading, who asked whether U.N.R.R.A. has a sufficient staff to cope both with relief and repatriation, and whether the military authorities ought not to be left in charge as long as possible. The answer to the first of these two questions is that U.N.R.R.A. has, so far, been able to meet all such requests for personnel as have been made to it. If U.N.R.R.A. has not been more widely used, the first reason is the one which I gave a week ago; namely, transport difficulties. A further reason is that some Allied Governments have preferred, and felt able, to handle the problem themselves. Under the S.H.A.E.F.U.N.R.R.A. Agreement, to which I have referred, S.H.A.E.F. have asked U.N.R.R.A. to provide a large number of personnel to deal with Allied displaced persons in Germany, and U.N.R.R.A. has, for some time, been busy recruiting and training persons so far as man-power difficulties allow. But it is not, of course, easy, as your Lordships will realize, in existing circumstances, to find very large numbers of suitable men for this type of work, which requires special qualities of tact and judgment. I sometimes hear people talk as though it was only necessary to go out into the street to pick up a few men fitted to work for U.N.R.R.A. As a matter of fact, these are extremely difficult posts to occupy, and they call for great experience of a rather specialized kind.

This staff will, for the present—indeed for a long time to come, I should think—work with the military authorities who will continue to be responsible for supplies and transport. In fact, I would suggest that the question is not whether the military authorities or U.N.R.R.A. should handle the problem: the problem can only be dealt with effectively by the two authorities in combination. The experience gained by U.N.R.R.A., while working with the military, should enable U.N.R.R.A. later on to relieve the military of the burden, and the sooner this can be done, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, the better. In liberated territories, of course, where the civil Government is in control, and U.N.R.R.A. has not been invited in, the responsibility remains with the Government of the country concerned, and must do. This, I think, answers the point which the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, raised about the need for provision for housing and feeding for repatriates on arrival at their destination. Where Governments do not invite U.N.R.R.A. into their territories to operate, the responsibility must remain upon them. But where U.N.R.R.A. has been asked to assist, it is, of course, clear that this would be one of its main functions.

I believe that both the noble Marquess and the Earl of Perth asked me a specific question about Stateless persons—namely, whether they have any sufficient documents, and, if not, will the Nansen system be applied? That is a question which it is extremely difficult for me to answer at the present moment with complete finality, and I hope that your Lord-ships will excuse me if I do not do so. But, broadly speaking, while some Stateless persons may not have sufficient documents, those who have enjoyed previous arrangements—for instance, those in the United Kingdom or other countries where international rules and standards of conduct apply—are provided with adequate documents. But this is clearly a serious problem, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees are at the present time engaged in c9iivening a committee of Government experts to study this particular problem of Stateless persons not covered by previous arrangements in regard to their documentation—who constitute the core of our problem.

In conclusion—and I am afraid I have kept the House for a very long time—I would say this. The whole problem of displaced persons, using the term in the widest possible sense, is on a scale which has never been seen before. It has arisen not only out of the war itself but from events in Germany and elsewhere leading up to the war, and even—as those of us who worked at Geneva know very well—from the aftermath of the last great war, and the revolutions and upheavals which resulted from it. It is no new problem. It is necessary to set in clear relief the two conceivable ways of tackling it. One is by grasping at immediate aspects which seem capable of settlement, but which in that event are bound to be dealt with as it were ad hoc and without overmuch regard to similar problems elsewhere. The other method is to deal with the problem as a whole, internationally, and methodically work out systems of priority and machinery. It is easy to understand the desire of the advocates of the first course (and they are quite numerous) to press on, and to sympathize with their impatience with the international approach, with all the machinery involved, as being unnecessarily cumbrous and slow-moving; but to those (if there are any) in your Lordships' House who feel like this I would say a word of caution. There is a real danger that if they had their way we should get the worst of both worlds; we should haver and waver between the two courses and lose the advantages of each.

I should like to be bold enough to express a personal view. I cannot pretend to be an expert on this most difficult and technical question, but I do know something of the background, because I spent many weeks working on various aspects of the refugee problem at Geneva in the years before the war. Frankly, I do not believe that this is one of those problems which can possibly be tackled on an ad hoc basis; it is far too big and the numbers involved are far too formidable. I will freely admit that the results achieved in the past by international action have not always been all that we might have hoped. I think that on the whole they have been disappointing, and I am afraid that has to a considerable extent been due to the fact that not all those nations who paid lip service to the principle of international action were in practice willing to give it a fair trial. Of course, unless nations are really prepared to live up to their professions, no scheme of any kind will succeed.

In my view, however, we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by possible lack of complete success in the past. It would be, I think, very surprising if we had achieved success at the first effort. International action in this sphere, as, I am afraid, in many others, is a plant of very slow growth. Of course, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said to-day, this is an urgent problem. His Majesty's Government recognize that as much as anyone in this House; but I do not think that any implied charge of dilatoriness—and this is the only part of Lord Reading's speech which could give any ground for complaint—is justified. On the contrary, there is an immense amount of devoted work going on at the present time. But it is no use raising false hopes that there is an easy way out of this problem; there really is not.

The noble Viscount, Lord Templwood, asked why we did not have a common policy between the three main Allies. There is a common policy, agreed at Atlantic City, with regard to repatriation. There are not yet detailed plans with regard to resettlement. First of all, we do not know how many people will have to be resettled, and we do not know what will be the areas, by the time that this war comes to an end, which will be suitable for their resettlement. There will be countries of temporary refuge and countries of permanent refuge. In my view, the countries of temporary refuge will have to keep a large number of these refugees permanently; I do not believe that you can go on moving them about the world. But that is a matter to be thrashed out, and in the meantime these people will have to be looked after as best they can be by the International Committee.

We must recognize one hard fact. We cannot expect a rapid or complete solution of this problem. It would be futile to do so. I have seen myself far too much to have exaggerated hopes. However we tackle the refugee problem, it is going to be with us for many years to come. It is one of the evil legacies of the great world upheaval which has been going on since 1914. This is only one aspect of the formidable task of restoring order out of the present chaos which is likely to occupy the whole of our lives and most of the lives of our children. Everywhere—at Dumbarton Oaks, at Hot Springs, at Bretton Woods—we are tackling it on an international basis; and on that basis alone, I firmly believe, have we any chance of achieving success.


May I have an answer to the question relating to Jewish orphan children, of which I gave notice?


I do not think that I can say more to the noble Lord than I have already said. I did make it clear to him that there was a certain number of certificates allowing people to come into Palestine, and those certificates are allocated by the Jewish Agency.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, sometimes in listening to a Minister replying to a debate I reflect that whilst the War Office has a General Staff other Ministries appear to have a Generalization Staff; but to-day that reproach cannot be addressed to the noble Viscount, of whose sympathy with any problem of human suffering we are all fully aware. He has answered the debate to-day with the courtesy and diligence which he always shows in answering a large number of specific questions flung at him. I am most grateful to him for the care which he has taken in his reply, and with the leave of the House I desire to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.