Famine Relief.

Oral Answers to Questions — Russia. – in the House of Commons on 9th March 1922.

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asked the Prime Minister what, if any, steps are to be proposed by the Government to the other European Powers for providing the necessary financial assistance to the relief of the famine districts of Russia?

Photo of Mr George Barnes Mr George Barnes , Glasgow Gorbals


asked the Prime Minister if he has received the resolutions, among others, unanimously adopted by the Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Trade Council, urging the Government to grant relief to the non-Bolshevist Russian people stricken by famine; has his attention been called to the statements made by Sir Benjamin Robertson and Dr. Nansen to the effect that money is required for seed for next harvest which cannot be procured in time by voluntary agency; and whether, having regard to the urgency of the matter, he can now reconsider the whole question with a view to making a grant and thereby possibly stimulate other Governments to do likewise, so as to help in averting even a greater calamity next year?

Photo of Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck , Nottingham South


asked the Prime Minister whether the Government has reconsidered its decision to refuse relief to the sufferers from famine in Russia?

Photo of Mr John Cairns Mr John Cairns , Morpeth


asked the Prime Minister if he intends to give immediate relief to the starving millions in Russia, as suggested by Dr. Nansen?

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House):

We have given serious and renewed consideration to this question, but in view of the large sums which this House has already voted for the relief of Europe, of the very heavy burdens resting upon our own people, and the great distress and suffering existing among them, we are unable to propose a grant from public funds, but every effort will be made to add to the supply of medical stores already placed at the disposal of the Red Cross Society. The re- sources in the possession of the Government are being reviewed for this purpose.

Photo of Mr George Barnes Mr George Barnes , Glasgow Gorbals

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the American Government have given 12,000,000 dollars and are at present voting about 7,000,000 dollars, I think, to women and children in Russia as against our £700,000 or less, and also is he aware that there are 5,000,000 poods of seed short for this spring sowing, and if the seed is not forthcoming the Russian people will be faced with a catastrophe next year even worse than this?


I am aware that the American Government has devoted a large sum, even larger than my right hon. Friend has mentioned, to the purpose of famine relief. I believe the horror of the situation in Russia can hardly be exaggerated, but we must have regard to what we have already done, to the burdens we have put upon our own people, to the possibility and even probability that we shall shortly be asked by the League of Nations to vote a further sum to combat the spread of typhus out of Russia into Europe which menaces all the western nations, and I cannot altogether overlook that the Russian Government has resources of its own which are being applied to matters much less urgent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] It may be a matter of shame, but not for this country—much less urgent and vital than the relief of famine among its own citizens.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that so competent an authority as Sir Benjamin Robertson, who has just returned from this very area, is of opinion that, even on material grounds, as an investment for this country, it would be a wise thing for us to advance a sum of between £400,000 and £5,000,000?


The sums I have been asked to advance vary between £400,000 and £3,000,000 or £4,000,000.


It is so. I do not wish to underrate the gravity of the position, but the Government, after reviewing the position most carefully, have, upon the grounds mentioned, come to the conclusion I have stated.

Photo of Mr John Cairns Mr John Cairns , Morpeth

If we do not support Russia now, will that mean a shortage of grain for this country next year?

Photo of Sir John Norton-Griffiths Sir John Norton-Griffiths , Wandsworth Central

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to give an assurance that he will not consent to give any funds whatsoever, without first referring the matter to this House?


I have stated the policy of His Majesty's Government. Until the House disavows it, that is the policy of the Government As regards the question of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Cairns), of course the world is poorer by the desolation which has overtaken Russia. The desolation of the great grain-growing regions of Russia must affect the corn supply of the world. That is inevitable. But it is not due solely to the drought of last season.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is not only the trustee for this nation's finances, but also for its honour in this matter?


This nation has never been backward in coming to the relief of distress in other countries. That has been done almost universally through the means of subscriptions given by the charitable in this country, generally on an appeal from the Lord Mayor. I know of no demand that there should be a Vote from public funds in the whole of the last century comparable to that which is asked to-day, under circumstances where the distress of our own people and the burden of our responsibility is incomparably greater than at any other period.

Photo of Lord Robert Cecil Lord Robert Cecil , Hitchin

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has ever been any instance of distress comparable with this that now exists in Russia, and whether it is not the opinion of Indian experts that in India we do not know what famine means compared to what it is in Russia; and is he aware that the opposition to our advancing money comes solely from the richer classes?


I am certainly not aware that the opposition to spending our resources at this time, when there is so much distress, and more distress than we can meet, among our own people, comes solely from the well-to-do. I am sorry that my Noble Friend has made a suggestion of that kind. As regards the state of affairs, I do not think that it can be exaggerated. I believe that the utter disorganisation of the transport and of the ordinary means of commerce and trade in Russia has immensely aggravated, and does immensely aggravate the situation, and takes it out of the category of anything we have had to deal with, even in the worst times, in India; but I think there have been calamities in the world's history on as large a scale where it has not been thought right, or even proposed, that we should Vote public money for that purpose.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Martin Archer-Shee Lieut-Colonel Martin Archer-Shee , Finsbury

Is it not a fact that there are cargoes of grain lying in the Black Sea which cannot be transported to the famine area? What is the use of our sending more until that grain has been sent?

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

How is distress among our own people going to be helped if our potential customers are to be allowed to die to the number of 20,000,000, and how are we to reduce unemployment?

Photo of Mr George Barnes Mr George Barnes , Glasgow Gorbals

I beg to give notice that, owing to the unsatisfactory answers which have been given, I shall ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House.