HL Deb 19 December 1946 vol 144 cc1164-94

4.46 p.m.

LORD BEVERIDGE rose to call attention to the problem of displaced persons in Europe, and the need to make adequate provision for resettlement of those for whom return to their countries of origin may be impossible or dangerous; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Paper concerning the problem of displaced persons. I think your Lordships will agree that this problem is one of the most tragic legacies of the late war. It has nothing to do with the Germans. The displaced persons are not people of German origin. The war ended with something like 12,000,000 persons of the nations who fought against Germany and Italy uprooted from their homes and displaced. Something like 11,000,000 have now got back, but there are left, a year and a half after the end of the war, about 1,000,000 displaced persons. Very roughly there are something like 400,000 Poles in the ex-enemy countries, 200,000 Baltic peoples, Lithuanians, Estonians and so on, 70,000 Yugoslavs, 100,000 Jews, 100,000 Ukranians, and smaller groups. Then, of course, although these are not on the mainland of Europe, there are 150,000 Poles in this country, and smaller groups elsewhere.

I do not think that it is necessary to go into the question of how these people came to be where they are. Some were prisoners of war, some were members of slave labour bands, and some were refugees in consequence of events before the war. The question is, what to do about them now? There are about 750,000 living in camps maintained by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in the ex-enemy countries of Germany and Austria, and there are others in other camps. Darwin defined the basis of human happiness as" work and the domestic affections". These people are cut off from both of those. Nearly all of them represent a grey mass of misery and frustration. They are people cut off from ordinary human life. I consider that it is not fanciful to think of the war as something like a mining disaster, which cuts off a number of people in a mine. Some get rescued and some are left behind. You may think of this 1,000,000 still displaced a year after the war as people still left in the bottom of the mine, cut off from ordinary human life and waiting for rescue. The real question is: What kind of rescue agencies are available for them? First of all there is the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. That has fed and housed and looked after the temporary needs of great numbers of these people. But it has not any powers for resettling people who for any reason cannot go back to their homes. That is what the agency has worked for, but: all it can do is to keep them in the camps. That particular agency is already coming to an end. Legally, I believe, it will be wound up at the end of the present year, but one hopes that it will have money to go on with at least some of its work into the early months of next year, because there is nothing yet in prospect to take its place.

There is another agency which ought to be mentioned because it may come in. That is the Inter-Governmental Committee. Set up in 1937 or 1938, that body, in a sense, is a relic of the First World War and took over the remains of what was done by the Nausea Organization for Stateless Persons. It has done a great deal of work, or at least it has spent considerable sums of money, largely in maintaining Spanish Republican refugees —not looking after them itself but spending the money on them through voluntary agencies. It has always been a small affair, not a big organization capable of undertaking large tasks. And I may say that at the moment Soviet Russia has withdrawn from that particular Committee.

Finally there is the United Nations Organization. Last February, the United Nations Assembly accepted a resolution for setting up an International Refugee Organization—the I.R.O.—for dealing with this problem. Only two days ago—that is, after something like nine months—the Assembly approved a constitution for that organization. That does not mean, of course, that the organization is there. It cannot come into being until it has been subscribed to and until agreement to join it has been made by at least fifteen nations representing seventy-five per cent. of the money required to finance it. It is not certain of that. It is not certain that it will receive that amount of assent, and there are obvious difficulties in the way of that organization because of the very definite differences in view as to what the organization should do, and as to its framework, between the eastern and western views in Europe. There is one other thing I would say about that organization. That is, that at present the possibility of its spending money on resettlement is limited to 5,000,000 dollars. For any large resettlement, moving refugees elsewhere to new homes, that is obviously inadequate. But there is that organization and we all hope that it will come into being. It will not do so at once. It will be at least two years from the end of the war before it can start any kind of rescue work. Two years is not long in the life of a nation, but it is a very long time in the life of a displaced person who has already had five or six years of war.

Why are these million people still there? Why have they not, like the other 11,000,000, been repatriated? There are two distinct views on that. There is the simple view, put forward only recently in the discussion on the I.R.O. constitution, by Mr. Vishinsky, on behalf of the Soviet Union. In effect, what he said was: "There is no problem of these displaced persons. There would be no problem if there were not an unhealthy atmosphere of politically dangerous scheming erected around it." He contended that the overwhelming majority of these displaced persons are anxious to return to their native land. I am quite certain that that is true. Mr. Vishinsky went on to say: "They are prevented from doing so by political pressure on the part of Fascist elements in the camps which, by means of propaganda and terrorism, have sought to set the displaced persons against the countries of their own nationality and to dissuade them from returning to their homes." In other words, he says that the one thing which keeps these people in this miserable camp life, instead of returning to their homes, is the terrorism exercised on them in the camps. That is his argument, and from it follows the practical conclusion which Mr. Vishinsky also drew—that those who refused to return to their native country, after having expressed their views should be debarred from help from this new organization, as war criminals and traitors are debarred from all help.

Against that there was the other view, put forward most admirably by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the chief American delegate. The fact was, she said, that political changes in the countries of origin of the displaced persons have created fears in the minds of the million people who remain. If you accept that view, it follows that those to whom return is a cause of fear should have a real opportunity of going elsewhere. That is the issue which has come up again and again during the many weary months of discussion in the Assembly—whether a person who flies from his own country or dreads to return to it is for that reason something like a criminal who ought to be sent back, or is a refugee from arbitrary power who should have asylum.

That is the issue, quite fairly joined in the discussion about this organization. I hope your Lordships will have no doubt as to which view and which course for these displaced persons is the right one. It is quite obvious that the suggestion that people longing to go home are kept in the camps by the terrorism of the people in the camps—which of course they would escape by leaving the camps—is a little too ridiculous to deserve any discussion at all. What is certain, of course, is that the reason they do not go home is that they fear what they may find, in Soviet Russia and in Yugoslavia and, to a lesser extent, in Poland. Mr. Vishinsky's argument is that these people at the bottom of the mine do not really need rescue. All they have to do (he says) is to walk into the cage and they will be taken to the top. Their doubt, I think, is whether, if they walk into the cage, they will not be left there. I saw some of these refugees when I was in Germany; they are part of the German problem. I saw some Poles, and one of them gave me an interesting explanation of why he did not wish to go back. When I asked him "Could you go back?" he said "Yes. I very much want it. I am a professor of metallurgy and should be well employed, but if I went back I should be employed in preparing the next war on the wrong side. If I am to prepare the war I want to do it on the right side." I do not agree necessarily with that professor's answer.

Then I saw some of the Ukranian women. They were comfortable women, jolly women; to describe them as criminals is just foolishness. They said that they did not want to go back, because they did not know how they would be treated. It was simply fear which prevented them from returning to their country. In all this matter there is really the difference in the sense of human values. Mr. Vishinsky's argument, and that of those who go with him, is really one of regarding the individual as the property of the State. The Soviet citizen is the prisoner of the State. As against that, in the same debate I was very much interested to observe different points of view were put by the representatives of two small countries which I have visited—Belgium and Holland. The Belgian delegate stated that his country considered the State to be the servant of the individual, whatever his political convictions may be, and that the community cannot withhold its support from human beings, even though they may express opinions hostile to those of the Government of the day. The Netherlands delegate put it in a similar way, that individuals have a higher destiny than merely being subordinated to the destiny of their people and their country.

Here is one of the big issues from which we should not shrink. We should express our attitude that those who flee from arbitrary power shall have the right of asylum from arbitrary power. That is and always has been one of our deepest traditions. This flight from arbitrary power is one of the things with which the United States began; they afforded the right of asylum to those people. I hope that the British Government is going to make a strong stand for the right of asylum when this International Refugee Organization gets to work. What is the right of asylum? It is no use blinking the fact that there are differences of view between the East and the West with regard to this matter. We hope that the East may come round to the view of the West. But it is of no use disagreeing with or arguing against the East. The question is: What does one do in practice? I suggest that what we have to do is to establish both in principle and in practice the right of asylum from arbitrary power.

What does that mean? It means, first, that there should be no compulsory repatriation. If, after considering the position, these people do not wish to go back, they should not be forced to go back. I wish to make reference to a particular set of refugees of whom I have spoken already in a previous debate. These are the Yugoslavs in Italy. There are some 25,000 of them in Italy. Many of them fought with us; some came as slave labour; some possibly may have fought against us, but of that I am not sure. But undoubtedly many of them fought with us, and they have as good a case for being brought to this country as have the Poles. In any case, I suggest that they are our responsibility and that of the United States. It was with our Armies that they took refuge. Our Armies were in occupation when they became displaced persons.

On February 10 we all hope that the Peace Treaty with Italy will be signed. Within three months of that date there will be no British or Untied States military forces there to speak of. What is going to be the position of those Yugoslavs? They are our responsibility. Can we carry out that responsibility with any assurance if we leave these people in Italy? If the Italian Government give assurances and do not honour them, it is not merely the Italian Government that will be disgraced; we shall be disgraced by having surrendered the right of asylum to those people. I know that it is a very difficult problem. I hope that we can still find a place to which we can move these people, whether it be to Eritrea, one of the Italian Colonies, or to a country where they will not be at the mercy of bargains between the Italian Government and the Yugoslav Government. This is a most urgent question.

Of course, it is not enough to say that there is to be no compulsory repatriation, because you must, if you want to give the right of asylum, give a chance of resettlement in a normal life. I am glad to think that we in this country—and it is something for which we can take credit—have done a very great act in undertaking, as we have, responsibility for the resettlement of the Poles who came from Italy. But we are not exactly getting on with the job as quickly as one would like, because we all know that these Polish ex-soldiers are to a very large extent not being usefully employed in this country, and not to be usefully employed is bad for any man. It is bad for the feeling between them and the people of this country. At the same time, we know that in this country we have an extreme shortage of labour in agriculture, in mining and in many heavy industries. I understand that to-day we are trying to import Italians for some of our heavy work. Why do we want to do that instead of using the Poles? Why are we keeping German prisoners here instead of using the Poles?

It may be that that is due to some fear or objection in particular trades to taking in these men and allowing them to be used. If so, I hope that the Government, with its strong influence over the trade unions, will be able to break down any kind of unreasonable opposition. At the present time we are doing a thing which is entirely wrong in this country—namely, we are keeping prisoners of war while we are refusing to use other people who might work here. It is not, of course, only the Poles who are involved, and it is not only, heavy work for which we want people. There are any number of excellent and intelligent Baltic people—they are most excellent agriculturists—whom we could bring over, and I hope that we will bring over some of them.

There are things which we can do ourselves, of course, but this business of resettlement is not in the main a thing which we can do ourselves, because although we could employ a lot more people in this country, and although we are still short of labour, there are many other countries with much more room. After all, for a million people to be absorbed in all the world is nothing. Taken as a world problem, it is a tiny thing. Taken as a human problem of suffering, it is immense. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will realize that I am not in the least criticizing the Government. I am actually Chairman of a self-appointed body calling itself the Refugees' Defence Committee. It is not for defending refugees against the Government. The object of the Committee is merely to mobilize the support of what I believe to be the feeling of the people in this country in favour of the right of asylum. I hope, if the Government will carry out what is the great British tradition of working for the right of asylum, they will be grateful to me and not regard me as a critic.

May I also say that I am very glad to see that a very influential committee in the United States is in the process of being formed? That committee will work with us, and I hope that in fact it will do a great deal more than we can possibly do, because the United States can do so much more than we can. I hope that the Government will give encouragement to all those people in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States and in many lands who are working to ensure that a proper view is taken of this problem. I have no doubt that we can declare, and I hope we shall declare, that we propose to adhere to the International Refugee Organization and put our shoulders to the wheel to get it really working. But there are difficulties to be got over. The constitution as it is drafted represents a battlefield scarred by compromises. Some of these compromises are going to be rather difficult—the compromise, for example, between the view that a displaced person is a person to be helped and the view that he is a person to be hounded back to his own country whether he likes it or not. There are those compromises. But if we stick to the Assembly resolution against no compulsory repatriation I think we can get it working.

I hope at the same time that the Government can give some kind of assurance about what they plan to do about the Yugoslavs in Italy, and, finally, that they will work for more money for resettlement, because resettlement is going to cost much more than £1,000,000, which is all the money that is available. That is on the assumption that the International Refugee Organization does get established and does work without getting into a dreadful impasse. There are dangers of its breaking down through disagreement. It has actually been carried against the opposition of the Soviet and of the nations that generally work with the Soviet, which may still create great difficulties in the working of it. If it does not get established, and if it does not work for the right of asylum, then I hope the Government of this country, at least, will make it plain that we propose to pursue the same rescue work by whatever other means may be available. It may be that an Inter-Governmental Committee will be the right agency. It may be, as was suggested to me by a Yugoslav whom I happened to meet in Brussels, who is devoting his whole life to rescuing his compatriots, that the International Red Cross should be used if we cannot make the United Nations agency do the work. At any rate, let us make it clear that the rescue work is going to go on by one agency or another. There are these 1,000,000 people who need rescuing. I also hope that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, can perhaps give us some assurance that we shall do more, and do it more rapidly, to employ some of the people, the Poles and others, in meeting the acute shortages of labour in this country.

There is this human problem of 1,000,000 people who will have been certainly for two years since the war ended cut off from ordinary human life. That is a long time. I hope that from the mere fact that we have discussed this matter here to-day something may go out which will give them hope that the rescue party will come to them in time before their lives are altogether destroyed. This is a small problem for the world—1,000,000 people —but every one of those 1,000,000 is a suffering individual human being. The solution of this problem is a great opportunity for humanity to show that it is humane, and a great opportunity for the nations to work together for something which, whatever happens, whether it is successful or not, would make for a better peace and better feeling throughout the world. Finally, it is a great opportunity for those who believe in freedom and the value of the individual to show their faith by their acts. I beg to move for Papers.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken in a very short but very eloquent speech has called attention to a very pressing problem. The attitude of mind which is sometimes described as the "right of asylum" is one of our oldest Liberal traditions. It is not a liberal tradition, I am glad to say, in the mere narrow party sense. Though it derived from the Liberals, it has become a tradition which is inherited now by all thinking men in this country and by all parties, and I devoutly hope that, whatever the political differences and changes may be in this country, we shall always adhere to that great tradition which our forefathers handed down to us. Therefore I say that this problem is a problem of which Ills Majesty's Government are deeply conscious and to which they are fully alive.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord that it is not a problem which can be solved by this country alone; it is a world problem. By precept, by example, we must do everything we can to show that we are going to take our share, and more than our share, in solving this problem, but if I do not go further than that to-day it is because I am so anxious that the doctrine expressed in the words "Moab is my washpot"—which means to say, applying to this country, that everybody with a difficulty about refugees can hand them on to us—should not be applied. It really is not fair that this small country should be called upon to bear the entire burden when there are many other countries in the world far better placed than we are to take a share. We shall do all we can, and we have done. I think the noble Lord recognizes that we have done a great deal towards solving this problem already.

So far as the number of displaced persons in the British zone of Germany is concerned, it is now estimated at nearly 400,000, and that figure is approximately half the figure that existed in October, 1945. That means that large numbers have already returned to the country of their origin. I agree with the noble Lord's diagnosis of the problem of the difference between the Eastern and Western point of view. His Majesty's Government state emphatically that on this matter they adhere to the Western point of view. There are undoubtedly a number of people who are apprehensive as to what would happen to them if they went back, and it would be quite wrong for us to make them go back to see whether their apprehensions were right or wrong. On the other hand, there are also a number of people who are perhaps influenced by others and have accordingly come to the conclusion that they should not go back. I think we should give them every opportunity of learning the facts and assessing them for themselves and deciding what the chances are of resuming a happy and prosperous life in their own homeland where, he it observed, in many cases their kith and kin remain. Therefore we shall do everything we can to encourage these people, but not to force them, to go back if they are so minded. Accordingly we have started camps at which they can receive factual information about the conditions at home, and they can make up their own minds as to whether they will or will not return. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that in many cases the best solution will be for these people to go home. I think the noble Lord will probably agree that that is so. That is the general approach to the problem.

I agree also with the noble Lord's diagnosis about the International Refugee Organization under the United Nations which we are hoping to set up, and your Lordships may remember that not very long ago in this House I made some observations about that. It is the fact that it is not yet certain whether that organization will come into being, and, of course, it is not certain that that organization, even if it comes into being, will be able effectively to grapple with this problem in a reasonable space of time. We must not, therefore, pin our faith exclusively to this organization; we must take such practical steps as are open to us in the meantime to try and deal with this problem and to get other nations to co-operate with us. Accordingly we have been doing so, and we have arranged that Missions should go over to Europe in order to see what contributions can be made. I expect your Lordships know that a Brazilian Mission has now reached Berlin. Dr. Neiva, its head, will, so soon as he receives the necessary instructions from his Government, make a general survey of the situation in Germany and Austria to see to what extent his vast country can utilize some of the labour which one might think could do so much towards the building up of the prosperity of that country. Then we have an Inter-Governmental Committee Mission which has arrived in the Argentine and which is discussing the matter with the immigration authorities. That Mission is also going to visit Paraguay and Uruguay; a further Mission will go to Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and a third Mission will go to Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. The Argentine Government has now sent its own representative over to Europe in order to study resettlement problems. I am quite sure your Lordships will think that in trying to connect together the vast resources of these South American countries and the available labour in this country we are proceeding on the right lines.


May I interrupt to ask one question? Of whom do these Missions consist which are touring South America? Do they consist of representatives of the United States Government and our own, representing the occupation authorities?


They are inter-governmental; they are not set up by any one Government. I could not tell the noble Lord the exact number of Governments supporting them but our own is certainly one.

Then we are proceeding to discuss this matter with our Canadian brothers. We hope that they will be able to take a certain number of Balts and Ukrainians. It is also a fact that some refugees will profit by the declared policy of the Canadian Government to allow the immigration of relatives of Canadian subjects. Further than that, we ourselves at home are arranging for the admission into this country of 2,000 Baltic women for hospital work in the United Kingdom, and we hope to extend that plan to make up for the great shortage of staff there is in those and similar public institutions. Finally, and dealing particularly with the Jews, it has recently been found possible to reopen the Palestine immigration lists to Jews in Germany who have relatives in Palestine, and to a small extent that also will help to solve the problem. All these things in themselves seem small, but I am sure we are right to attack the problem from all these points of view.

Now I come to two specific questions which the noble Lord asked about the Poles and Yugoslavs. So far as the Poles are concerned, His Majesty's Government are most anxious to see that these people over here are employed in useful work, but I should not be treating the House with candour if I did not say there were great difficulties about this—difficulties with regard to areas and with regard to particular trades—with which your Lordships are all familiar. We shall try with patience, tolerance and exhortation, to see that these people are usefully employed because, heaven knows, there is a great need in this country for employable persons. So long as we do it with discretion and tact and do not rush at it, I am hopeful that we shall surmount and overcome these difficulties.

I would add that just as there is a duty on the part of the host towards the guest, so equally there is a correlative duty on the part of the guest towards the host. I am not prepared, because I have not discussed this matter with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, to make any wholesale condemnation of conduct, but we have all read things in the public Press which may or may not be true but which, if true, are very disturbing and which, if not true, I would like to see contradicted. It is idle to pretend that statements of the sort which are being made—your Lordships, I am sure, know the sort of statement I am referring to; I am not saying they are true—will, if uncontradicted, make this task any easier; they will not. We must ask all those who come to this country to show that they are going to prove worthy citizens of it.

With regard to the Yugoslavs in Italy, we are very conscious of this problem. It is true that we have some responsibility for these people. We shall try, when the Treaty of Peace is signed and when our Forces leave Italy, to see that these people are fairly dealt with by the Italians. It is fair to say that we have no reason whatever to think that the Italians will behave less liberally than we ourselves would behave, but if necessary we shall be prepared to take suitable steps to see that the interests of these people are safeguarded and protected. I would much rather not say more than that. The noble Lord will perhaps be satisfied if I say we realize that we have a responsibility in this matter and are anxious to see that that responsibility is not neglected.

That really is the substance of what I have to say. This is a world problem and one in which we need the collaboration of all States. It is a problem which is not perhaps of great magnitude in one sense, but it involves a vast mass of human misery and unhappiness. I agree, therefore, that it is a problem which must receive the continuing attention of His Majesty's Government and I am grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this question in his short and eloquent speech.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to keep, your Lordships very long. I think it is well that this topic has been raised this afternoon, especially as it has elicited from the noble and learned Lord the speech to which we have just listened. When those of us who had the task of founding U.N.R.R.A. set up that part of its Charter which dealt with displaced persons, it was not with the intention of finding them homes; it was to facilitate their return to their homes if they had them. I must say I should think none of us who were at Atlantic City in 1943 contemplated that eighteen months after the war in Europe had terminated there would still be over 1,000,000 of these luckless people who were homeless. This is a great human problem. These people have committed no crimes. Most of them are where they are because they left their own countries from fear of oppression, rightly or wrongly, and because they did not like living—let us be frank about it—under a Communist régime.

That is why a lot of them came away from east to west, and why a great number of them do not wish to return. I am glad that the Lord Chancellor, in his speech to-day, realized that there was no political issue between us, but we want the right of asylum—which is one of our great traditions in this country—to remain, and we want our views on it to bear fruit also in those countries where that tradition is not perhaps so strong as it is here.

I do not know whether any other noble Lord is going to speak for the other side, but, if so, perhaps he will make a note of this question and, if he can, answer it. I do not quite know what is going to happen to these people when the existence of U.N.R.R.A. is terminated, and when there may not be sufficient funds to keep these camps going. Who at that stage is going to look after these 850,000 people at present in the U.N.R.R.A. camps? There are about 200,000 I am told—and I take what Mr. La Guardia said—scattered over Western Germany and other areas. But there are 850,000 actually in camps being administered by U.N.R.R.A. and being fed by U.N.R.R.A. What is going to happen to these people when U.N.R.R.A. ceases to exist and funds are no longer there to keep them fed and looked after? It is a question to which I should like an answer to be given, if possible, because this is no hypothetical case and we know that the decease of U.N.R.R.A. will shortly take place. As I think is recognized on all sides, this is not only a great humanitarian problem but one in which practical steps have to be taken if it is going to be solved.

I was glad to hear about these Missions to certain countries which are under populated, fertile lands such as Brazil, the Argentine and other South American countries, where these displaced persons not only can get new homes but can probably be of great benefit to the countries to which they go. For myself, I have most sympathy, if I may say so, for those men who are in the Polish Army. They actually fought at our side. They fought extremely gallantly in Italy and elsewhere, and many British lives were saved because we had those men taking part and actually bearing their full share in the battle. There is not the slightest doubt that they had some effect in shortening the war, with the extra man-power which they added to the forces of the United Nations.

Therefore, I would put them first; but after that there is this great problem of the others who are in these displaced persons' camps. In regard to the Poles, I was glad to hear the Lord Chancellor say that it was' the policy of the Government to see that those who were not going back to Poland—and here I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord—should be told all the facts. I think his words were that they should be encouraged, but not forced to go back home if they did not wish to. I was also glad to hear the Lord Chancellor say that for those who stayed here the policy of the Government was that they should be employed in useful work. That, I think, should have the assent of all of us. Where there is objection to these people in the trade union movement, I hope that those who lead will take the broad humanitarian point of view when looking at this problem. Practically wherever you go you find work of one sort or another held up in this country for the lack of the necessary labour. There was some talk about it in this House yesterday, when the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said that we were taking too many into the Civil Service from productive fields.

Here we have a great variety of persons. I am not for one moment advocating every one of them having a right to come here—certainly not. We must only take those who, we are pretty sure, will make themselves worthy citizens of this country, and I would not just fling the doors open wide to everybody. I am told by those in Germany who have been looking after a lot of people who fled out of the Baltic States that they are extremely good types of citizens. Some of them are highly educated people, and most of them are of good character. I have a list of the categories into which these people fall, or some of them. It is the U.N.R.R.A. classification which is going to be considered by the Economic and Social Council at its meeting in February. Of the displaced persons in U.N.R.R.A. camps there are no less than 50,591 Poles who are of farming stock. Of the Balts there are 11,933 who are of farming type. Well, some of those might be extremely useful here. We shall shortly be losing our German prisoners of war, and I would sooner see these free men come over here of their own free will and go to work on our land, where we want additional labour, rather than still keep prisoners of war after the war has been over for two or three years.

I come next to a category which many people in this country would thank the Government for bringing over, and that is the category of domestic servants. There are 10,913 Poles classed as domestic servants, and 6,787 Balts. I am glad to think that the Government are bringing over 2,000 of those Balts—I think that is the right word for them—as nurses. They will be most valuable additions to our hospitals. My only complaint is not that the Government are doing the wrong thing, because I think it is the right thing, but I do not think they are doing enough of it. They are not bringing over as many of these people as we might well have in this country. I see that there are 1,249 Poles who are bricklayers, and it would not do any harm to have some of them. There are 964 Balts who are carpenters, and they would be quite welcome, as well as 1,124 Polish electricians and 846 Balt electricians. Not all, but quite a number of those people who are skilled men in those jobs where we are short of labour at the present time, could surely be brought over to this country, just as the 2,000 Balt nurses are being brought over by the Government.

Not so long ago I went to my tailor, having just the number of coupons left to get myself a new suit. I was told that I could have it in six months from the date I gave the order. When I asked why, he said there was a great shortage of tailors and seamstresses. I see there are 8,089 of these amongst the Poles and 2,929 amongst the Balts, and I feel that if we had a few of them in this country some of us would not have to wait six months or so for a suit of clothes. I believe that not only can we be doing a really good turn—and a good turn we ought to do—to a lot of these displaced persons, but we can also help ourselves by bringing the good types of them to this country. I do not believe that they will interfere with or turn people out of employment so far as we can visualize the position for some years ahead. That being the case, I think we should move rather faster than we are now doing.

International bodies are a slow way of dealing with this matter. What I find about these bodies is that they meet and discuss a matter, and when they find they cannot get complete unanimity they adjourn for three or six months to some suitable place, hoping that a little bit more work behind the scenes will have been done between one meeting and the next. The result is that if this organization under the United Nations which, unfortunately, started without complete unanimity, is the one that is going to have this task entrusted to it, I am afraid that these people are going still to be kept behind this barbed wire where we are feeding them and keeping them in idleness. The sooner we can get them employed on useful work where they can help themselves and, by producing something, help the rest of the world, the better. What I like to see are practical steps such as the sending of the Mission by the Brazilians, who came over and saw what type of people they might take back to Brazil. Are we doing all we can? I believe that by these practical steps you are going to do far more than these bodies, resounding though their names may be, set up under the United Nations. What we want to do is to take practical steps and say to the other countries, "We have done something, now will you not do something too?" In that way, other countries may follow our lead, and we shall have done something to solve this very human problem that the war has left us.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes. It has been brought out very clearly by all the speakers to-night that this is a great tragedy. It is true, I suppose, to say it is a tragedy in little. It does not touch many lives in many corners of the world, but still it is a tragedy. I have not heard the case of the young people mentioned. I do not know what is their proportion in these camps, but, undoubtedly, there must be a very large number of them, including many babies who have been actually born in the camps since their parents have been there.

All I want to do to-night is to point out that we should not make too much of the utilitarian side either of the problem of emigration to South America or of bringing some of these poor people over here to work for us. We should look equally, perhaps even more so, at the humanitarian side. I do hope there will be no sort of discrimination against those who happen to have families in these camps, and that those Who can work and are willing to work, and who otherwise fulfil the various considerations that may be put up for emigration, will be given every facility, if they have families, to bring their families over and settle them here too. We can then give these young people, who have had such a very sorry turn in life, some hope and some help for their future lives. It may be, and it probably will be, that in the future they will become the best citizens of their adopted country.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, the fidelity of the Allies to the principles which they hold is being tested at many points, and there is no point at which the test is sharper than in their treatment of the remaining displaced persons. I am sure everybody will have appreciated very much the Lord Chancellor's welcome insistence on the right of asylum as a firm British principle. The very large-scale task of general repatriation of displaced persons at the end of the war has already been mentioned. That task—and we must not forget it—dealing with some 11,000,000 persons, was carried out with remarkable ability and considerateness. Nor must we forget that amongst the displaced persons at that time there were some millions of Russians whose suffering, from every evidence that one has been able to collect, was out of all proportion to the suffering of most other displaced persons. Their treatment at the hands of the Germans was peculiarly cruel, and the way in which they were treated in prison from 1941 onwards was out of all proportion to the way in which other prisoners of war were treated. I know that in a single winter in one transit camp alone in the British zone, 20,000 Russian prisoners died from typhus and starvation.

We have to face the million displaced persons that remain. Some of them are stateless, some of them of non-determined nationality, others acknowledged citizens of a particular State. The outstanding fact is that, nineteen months after the close of the war, they remain. Perhaps not quite enough has been said about the present conditions under which the displaced persons exist. They are not very good conditions, and they are deteriorating. It is not only that these people are full of alarm about the future, though this is perhaps a principal factor, but they tend to be regarded more and more as a nuisance, it being forgotten that they were the victims of the Nazis. There is too frequent a change of personnel among the officials in the British zone in Germany who are charged with their care, too frequent shifting of the displaced persons from camp to camp, and too little care for the older and the infirm people. Too little of the treatment which we give to our juvenile criminals has been given to the juvenile criminals who grow among the displaced persons there. But as the noble Lord who introduced this subject so eloquently has pointed out, the great anxiety is with regard to the future. In the majority of cases, the States of origin are pressing for their return in order, as they put it, that they may share in the work of national recovery. And it is quite right that every facility, and indeed encouragement, should be given to those who wish to return or are ready to return, and it is very possible that quite a number more of these displaced persons out of the 1,000,000 will find their way back, though one must deprecate a form of bribery—sixty days' rations and the like—which is sometimes held out.

But when all is said, and when every allowance has been made for malingering, there will be a very large number whom no power on earth will induce to go back to their countries of origin of their own free will, and the point at which the fidelity of the Allies is being tested is whether or no they will force back to the country of their origin, either directly or indirectly by acquiescence, men whom no free democratic court would convict of crime. Of course we except from all these considerations war criminals who are, presumably, under proper control. But I emphasize the fact that the men who refuse to go back with their families are the men who have either fought or suffered for principles which the Allies championed until their championship was crowned with victory. The reason why they refuse to go back is that, rightly or wrongly, they believe that if they cross the frontier to-day they will exchange freedom for tyranny. It is not for me to say whether or not their beliefs are incontrovertibly true, but in trying to discover the reasons for their refusal it is necessary to find out what those views are which they believe to be facts. Mention has been made, and very urgently and rightly made, of the Yugoslavs, of whom there are 70,000 in Italy and Central Europe. They were some of the bravest fighters who served side by side with the Forces of Britain and her Allies.

Let us not forget that in March, 1941, the Yugoslavs faced the awful ordeal of whether to be true to their faith and their history and their traditions or to submit to Germany and be secure. Knowing the consequences, the absolutely undoubted consequences, they chose that their country should be destroyed in preference to submission to the Germans with an easy life. And they made their choice—Mr. Churchill cheered them on at the time—for love of life and not for love of death. Now there is a new régime, there has for long been a new régime, in Yugoslavia, but these remnants of the old National Yugoslav Army know that if they return their fate is sealed. I have first-hand information of incidents which took place on the Carinthian frontier at the end of the war when British troops—think of this, my Lords, because of the danger which will exist in a few months' time—were ordered to arrest members of the Yugoslav National Army when they crossed the frontier from Yugoslavia to Austria and to disarm them. The British troops were told to take those Yugoslavs into Austria, to be most careful not to tell them where they were taking them, or leading them, and then to work their way towards another part of the same frontier and hand them over to the Communists. A soldier who was involved in that transaction has commented: "It hardly seemed to most of us to be in accordance with the best British principles of fair play." The recent trials of General Mihailovitch and Monsignor Stepinac, throw a lurid light on the fate that awaits such men. So I welcome what the Lord Chancellor has said about the influence which will be exercised upon the Italians, and I press very hard that the responsibility of the British for the security of the Yugoslavs may be absolute and may be effective for the saving of their lives.

The Baltic States have been mentioned. The citizens of those wonderful States, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia provide an illustration of another kind. They did not, it is true, fight for the Allies. Some of them were compelled to fight for the Germans. But, beyond all doubt, these peoples have suffered for the principles for which the Allies have fought. I have some personal knowledge and I had some first-hand information in the early years of the war of the character of the first occupation of those three countries in June, 1940. I know something of the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians far away to the East to a remote and incommunicable country, and tales of a woeful character are told of their present condition or their fate. Surely it is no wonder that very large numbers of citizens who fled out of those countries when they could should consent to be displaced persons, and that they should be unwilling to return to their native land. I have had letters from the heads of churches in Estonia and Latvia who are in special relationship with the Church of England and other churches represented in this country and I have seen letters written by Latvians to-day to other Latvians who are in what they call a free world.

There is much other testimony besides of the grave character of conditions which prevail in those wonderful Baltic States, where the civilization is so intense, where humanity is so real, and where the treasures of culture are so many. We can discount things that we hear or what men say, but there is a sufficient reality behind such letters and such evidence to prevent one wondering why these displaced persons are unwilling to return. There are others displaced, too, who will come to our minds. We must be concerned for their welfare now and for their resettlement, partly perhaps by some absorption in the European sphere (of the kind indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin), and partly by emigration to the American continent and to other countries I hope that in any plans for emigration the older people and the young children—but especially the older people—will not be forgotten The qualification of who is a useful asset in the labour market will not, I trust, be the only one to decide whether people are to be rescued or not.

The House obviously welcomed what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said about the Missions for South America, Canada and elsewhere—a point which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has also emphasized. It is a world problem, not only a British problem. Other countries have a very great contribution potentially to make. While on this side of the world problem, I should like to make a remark which I think has not yet been made about the cost of maintenance and of resettlement. I believe that a budget of $150,000,000 is the budget for general maintenance, while $5,000,000 have been set aside for The resettlement scheme. My lords, when you think of only a proportion of the 1,000,000 people, such a budget is absolutely inadequate even to maintain refugees in Europe. When you compare the $5,000,000—£1,000,000—for the settlement of all these people with Nansen's international loan of £12,000,000 for the settlement of one group only—the Greeks and the Turks—and compare the value of money now with the value of money then, and compare the complexity of the resettlement problem with the undoubted complexity of the problem after the First World War, you may well he led to the conclusion that the whole scheme will founder on bankruptcy.

The one thing which I hope everyone will steadfastly hold to is that all these displaced persons, of whatever nationality, who not being war criminals decline to go back of their own free will—that is to say, refugees who have fled from their native land on racial, political, or religious grounds—must not on any account be forced back by Allied power. The real remedy is the establishment of freedom in those countries in such a way as to assure the exiles that they will be free from oppression and free from fear, and that the way to their own safety is open. We should appeal to the East and the West, to Russia and to the United States, to our own country and to France, and to the United Nations, to co-operate to this end. And we must not rest until that task is fulfilled.

In the meantime, while we are taking precautions against malingering or the possible abuse of sanctuary, it is not in accordance with the rule of law between the nations, or with the principles for which the Allies fought, or in accordance with British nature, tradition, history or sense of fair play, that we should compel those who have taken sanctuary in other lands—not being war criminals—to go back to the lands of their birth when they know that return to those countries tinder their present conditions will lead to their immediate attack and involve them, almost inevitably, in loss of liberty or life. If we were to do these things, what answer should we have to the sufferers, or to history, or to conscience if we were asked: "What have you, the Western democratic world, gained by your sacrifices, except to see the most elementary human rights betrayed before your own eyes?"

6.07 p.m.


My Lords, I listened with the greatest satisfaction to the reassuring statement of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack about the efforts that are being made to promote the migration of displaced persons across the seas, both to this country and to the two Americas. In this connexion, there arises a point of great importance which has already been mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, and by my noble friend Lord Hampton, on which I would venture to lay a little further emphasis. That point is the preservation of the family unit among displaced persons wherever it now exists. It is of course the tragedy of very many displaced persons that they have been torn from the bosoms of their families. There are many men who do not know now whether their wives or their children or their parents are alive or not. There are some who have succeeded in bringing their families—or some portions of their families—with them, or who have exercised while displaced the fundamental human right which cannot possibly be denied them—the right to marry and found a family themselves.

I understand that from the point of view of the immediate and obvious interests of the receiving countries there is a preference for single persons, who constitute a labour force with obvious advantages. I remember that in a recent debate in this House a suggestion was made that the problem of our agricultural labour supply could be largely solved by the use of Polish Resettlement Corps labour—not only immediately, but in a year or two's time, when the crisis of manpower in agriculture will become acute. It was suggested that these Poles would live in camps, and would therefore not be competitors in the field of rural housing.

On this suggestion, I would sound a note of warning. It is not practicable, and it is not desirable, to prevent displaced persons from contracting matrimonial alliances, and when planning for the importation of displaced person labour it is not desirable to ignore family units which already exist. It is the pursuance of the policy of giving preference to unmarried persons as labourers, indeed, that is responsible for the grave moral problem among resettlement elements that has been alluded to by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I have therefore been asked by friends of mine, who are very well acquainted with the nature of the problem, to express the hope that the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of His Majesty's Government will be able to give us some assurance that this highly significant aspect of the matter will not be forgotten.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I also would like to thank the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for the declaration that he has made on behalf of His Majesty's Government this afternoon. But, like my noble friend Lord Llewellin, my quarrel with the Government is not with what they are doing, but what they are not doing. They are doing good, but they are not moving nearly fast enough to deal with this problem which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has said, is not an insurmountable problem. If only it were tackled with resolution and greater speed there should have been more progress than there has been to-day.

I should like to suggest that the United Nations might, at any rate, agree upon a formula which would be a guide as to what number of displaced persons each country could take. I should not have thought it would have been at all impossible to arrive at a formula by which you took the square mileage of fertile land in each of the United Nations and divided it by the population. That would give you the density of the population in the fertile lands. I am not suggesting that you should count areas like the deserts of Australia or other such parts, but merely the density of population in fertile lands in the United Nations. It would then be found that a minute addition to that density of population would completely absorb these million displaced persons. If such a formula could be agreed upon, every country would know what was its fair share, and if we took our fair share under such a formula it would really not be more than the influx of persons we received in the years from 1937 to 1939, the people who were fleeing from Hitler's tyranny.

I am sure they could be absorbed into this country and they could be absorbed into other countries without dislocating labour conditions; on the contrary, very greatly helping all of us in our work of reconstruction after the war. Your Lordships may say that to pass a resolution or to get a resolution of that sort agreed is something in the nature of a heroic measure, but I submit that nothing less will realty deal with the problem. What I dread is that we should continue as we have been doing during the last eighteen months. What is the use of bringing 2,000 Baltic ladies here and 5,000 people there? The numbers are far too great for such nibbles: the migration must be tackled systematically and on a sufficiently big scale. If we continue to do nothing we shall be allowing a festering sore to continue in the centre of Europe that may have very dangerous results in the years to come, and in addition, as the right reverend Prelate has said, we shall be betraying the principles for which we fought in this war. I venture to submit that the real testing time of the United Nations Organization is now; these problems should be handled in time and handled adequately. We have the example of the League of Nations before us to teach us what results from a policy of drift.

I wanted particularly to speak to-night about the condition and the plight of the Polish prisoners of war in Germany. From the time of the Armistice, they have been separated into two camps, those who fought under British Command and those who did not. I contend that is a purely arbitrary distinction, a legalistic distinction, and an unworthy distinction, because they all fought as our Allies in this war: they all fought with the utmost gallantry, and whether a man or a woman fought under British or Polish Command was a matter of chance. From the outbreak of war—and let us never forget (we can never forget) that Poland stood up to Hitler after receiving a guarantee from this country—practically every Polish man and woman was at his or her post of duty. Whether they fought in Poland or out of Poland was purely a matter of chance. Of our Allies I do not think any one fought with greater gallantry or greater loyalty than the Poles. I say that with great conviction, because when I was a Minister I was intimately concerned with the Polish Home Army, and I should like to bear testimony to the magnificent manner and courage with which they fulfilled their most difficult role.

Our Polish Allies were the only Allies with us at the beginning of war who stayed with us without interruption to the end. Poland was the only invaded country that did not produce a Quisling. Our Polish Allies fought with us on the land, on the sea and in the air. They fought in Norway, Greece, Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, in Germany, and, above all, they fought in Poland. The awards which we gave to individual Polish officers and men for their gallantry are numbered by the hundreds. I have a list of them here, but your Lordships are well aware of the proverbial gallantry of these Polish troops. These men, however, would be the last to suggest that their services in any way differed from those who fought with the Allies in Poland. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Polish prisoners of war who fought in Poland are Allied combatants. On August 30, 1944, His Majesty's Government—that is to say the Coalition Government—issued the following declaration: The Polish Home Army which is mobilized constitutes a combatant force which forms an integral part of the Polish Armed Forces. That was the declaration of the Coalition Government to which the present Prime Minister and his colleagues were parties.

Why are these men not now being treated as prisoners of war? Why are they being treated differently from their comrades who fought under British command? They have been refused permission to join the Polish Resettlement Corps and they have been refused permission to rejoin Polish units of which they had been members prior to the invasion of their country. Instead of being allowed to do these things they have been urged to return to Poland. Surely they know what conditions are in Poland better than we do. I was very glad to hear the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, say that no step will be taken to force these men to return to Poland although every facility will be given them to do so. They refuse to return to Poland for the same reason that other people refuse to return to Communist-controlled Europe.

Now I am informed that they have been deprived of the better food rations of 3,000 calories a day to which they are entitled as prisoners of war and have been reduced to the ordinary German ration of 1,500 calories a day. I should like particularly to draw the attention of the noble and learned Lord to this, because he laid emphasis on the fact that they would not be forced to return to Poland. These men in the British zone are late allies who fought with us in the war. I am informed—and I should be glad if the noble Lord who is going to speak can tell me if I am correct in this—that the intention is to put them under paymasters appointed by the Communist Polish Government. That would mean that their names would be known to the Warsaw Government and their relatives in Poland might suffer persecution if they continued to refuse to return.

I should like to read an extract from a letter from a high ranking Polish officer who rendered special services of the utmost importance to this country in Poland. He was one of the chief agents of the Western Allies in Poland during the German occupation and did magnificent work for years on end with reckless bravery until the end of the war. He was overrun in Poland by the Russian Army and although he had been robbed of all of his property his only desire was to retire quietly into private life. Unfortunately, however, the Warsaw Government got to learn of the work which he had been doing on behalf of Great Britain during the war and he had to fly for his life, and he escaped to the British zone.

This is what he writes: On my arrival in Germany I was placed in a prisoner of war camp though I had never been a prisoner of war even for an hour. It was only in German concentration camps that I had seen so many people ill-fed and ill-clad for whom a razor blade or a piece of soap would have been a luxury and a cup of coffee an unattainable dream. The treatment which the German population receives here is much better than that which the former Allied soldiers are given, for they have been even deprived of personal freedom to a great extent. I am sorry to write about these things but I think that after the Katyn crimes the greatest crime of the present time is the sufferings inflicted on the Polish prisoners of war. In my house in Poland during the war there were always some Allied prisoners of war who succeeded in escaping from captivity. We saw to it that they lacked nothing."— And that I know to be true— Personally on the termination of this 'victorious' war I often went to bed hungry and without the certainty that my wife had had any supper. I never asked for charity or for special assistance. However, I considered that since I have lost in the service of Great Britain, my Motherland, my health, my property, from a human point of view I should be granted the right of a free domicile at least in the country of the defeated enemy as well as some employment which would enable me to live decently. I was during the war sixty times in Germany, fourteen times in Hamburg in order to discharge the tasks of the Royal Air Force or the Admiralty. During those journeys I stayed at the Atlantic Hotel. To-day after the 'victorious' war not only is access to the Atlantic Hotel forbidden me but I am not even allowed to go to Hamburg though my camp is one kilometre from that city. I do not think we can read letters like that without a feeling of shame. I do ask His Majesty's Government to remember that these men were our very gallant allies, men who were with us in the war from the beginning and who stayed fighting to the end although their country was overrun by the enemy; men who have got nothing but loss and personal disaster out of the Allied victory; and men who originally entered this war because they trusted the good name of Britain. I suggest that in this matter the good name of Britain is at stake and that all combatant members of the Polish Army who are in the British zone, whether they fought under British officers or not, should be treated as soldiers and as allies, and that we should take active steps on the lines I suggested earlier in my remarks to enable them to find an occupation and a living in this country, in one of the great countries of our other Allies or in one of the Dominions where there is ample opportunity to absorb this not very great number of very brave and gallant men.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to answer the questions that have been put, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, had not the advantage of being here during the debate. I will do the best I can to deal with them. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, asked what is going to happen when U.N.R.R.A. comes to an end, as it will do in six months' time. I wish I knew. International negotiations are taking place now, as your Lordships know, to try and see what can be done. This country will do what it can, but I must warn your Lordships that the problem is a problem of food, and food in its turn is a problem of dollars; and it is perfectly idle to think that, with the best will in the world, we have the possibility of supplying the necessary dollars to provide the people of this country and all these people on the Continent of Europe with food. It cannot be done by this country. The most we can do is to do what we can; that is all I can say.

With regard to the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, I agree with him that the family unit is certainly something we should bear in mind. After all, the whole foundation of our civilization is the family, and therefore in dealing with displaced persons we shall certainly deal with the family. As to the remarks which have just been made by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, may I say that I wish I had known that such observations were going to be made because I would then have taken some steps to check the facts, with regard to which at the present time I have no knowledge. But if I understood the noble Earl aright, and if the letter which he quotes says that after the crime of Katyn, whoever may have been responsible for that, the next greatest crime in this war is the treatment by the British of the Poles, then I say it is a monstrous perversion and that the statement ought never to have been made or read to this House.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, before asking leave to withdraw my Motion, may I say three things very shortly about three points which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made in his speech? As to the difficulties in the way of employing some of the Poles in this country, and as to what he said about the duties of guests as well as hosts, we all know of that kind of difficulty, but we all also know that the only cure for idleness and the mischief that springs from idleness is work. Therefore, until we employ these people usefully there will be no chance of their being happily employed and free from mischief.

I would like to emphasize and support what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said about getting on with employment in this country to meet acute shortages of labour. When I was in Belgium, which also has a great shortage of miners, I did not find people there thinking that they would rather be short of coal than employ people who were not Belgians. I hope we shall get on with these other employments. Domestic service, for instance, is not a luxury of the rich; it is a necessary service for old people and parents with young children. Not to meet that need because we will not import many more than these 2,000 people from abroad is a cruelty to people in this country. Therefore I hope we shall in fact get on more rapidly than we have been doing. That is my only point of criticism.

I want to welcome most heartily what was, I think, the most important thing that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said; that is, the acceptance of responsibility by this country for the Yugoslavs in Italy. I hope the Government will do what they can to make this a joint and several responsibility with the United States. I say "joint and several" because it is as much their responsibility as ours. Subject to that, I accept entirely what: the noble Lord on the Woolsack said about leaving it to the Government to carry this out. I hope they will be able to carry it out, not by distrusting the Italian Government, but by acting friendship and co-operation with them.

I want to welcome the action of the Government in not waiting for the setting up of the International Refugee Organization and in taking tip all the schemes through the Missions for replacement and resettlement. If these schemes produce something useful, then there is a great chance that the International Refugee Organization, when it comes into being, will want to adopt them and will feel there is something useful and helpful it can do. Finally, may I express my thanks and, I am sure, the thanks of the whole House, to the noble Lord for his most interesting and important speech? I think it has fully justified my action in putting down this Motion and I feel all the happier in asking leave to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.