Distressed Persons, Europe (Relief)

Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1945.

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3.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

After the discussion that has just taken place on a part of Europe, I want to bring the House to a discussion of the general situation in Europe, and particularly with regard to the people who are now suffering as a result of the world war which has just come to a conclusion. I am speaking particularly of giving voluntary aid from this country quite indiscriminately to whatever parts of Europe may be in dis- tress, the voluntary aid which so many hundreds of thousands of people in this country are so anxious to give, yet the Government are denying them the opportunity of expressing themselves in this manner. I do not want to indulge in repetition. I know the Rules of the House well enough not to endeavour to do that. I do not apologise in the least for raising this issue again, and I give full warning that I shall return to it again and again and again until we get some sort of satisfaction. I want to clear the minds of hon. Members on one point. What we have in mind is not a discriminatory aid to one particular section of Europe. We recognise that, as a con sequence of the war, millions of people, friend and foe alike, who had little to do with the advent of the war are, in con sequence", quite innocently suffering in tensely. Aid should be brought to them. I will refer in passing to only two sections. We have heard today, or a day or so ago, about the situation in Holland. The Dutch are our friends. They have had a simply dreadful time. I do not propose to detain the House by describing what has been described to me, but those who have been there know that the state of malnutrition, shortage of clothing and general conditions are such as to wring the pity and the heart of every right-thinking man and woman. Even as far South as what we might think was an area of security, the South of France, we find, in the Marseilles area, that starvation is rife and that malnutrition—

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and 40 Members being present

3.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

While I deplore the fact that on an issue of this kind, where the human interests of so many millions of people are concerned, there should have been an interruption of Business, I must express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) for having filled the House up a bit for me.

I wish to refer once more to what I was saying about Southern France so that people may realise that we are trying to stimulate an interest, which is already widespread, in favour of the importance of saving Europe by applying relief indiscriminately to all sections of the people, wherever suffering is taking place. As part of a survey taken in the Marseilles area, 50,000 children of 12 years of age were examined. It was found that the children were, on the average, some 6 kilos less in weight than they were before the war, and 3 inches or more less in height. It was generally expressed there that it would take at least two, if not three, generations to bring even that part of Southern France back to the normal conditions that prevailed prior to the war.

I do not try to avoid the fact, which everybody will know, that the worst conditions are in Central Europe. The worst conditions undoubtedly, because there they are so much more numerous and persistent, and prevail among those who were, for the most part, regarded during the war as our enemies. All of us realise the tremendous effort which is being made by U.N.R.R.A. and by the British Army in the occupied territory to deal with the situation. I regret to say that that situation is made much more complicated by the ever-increasing and continuous stream of expelled persons coming into the Occupied Territory from Central Europe—but that is another point. The British Army and U.N.R.R.A. are doing a grand job. The only thing I would say in regard to U.N.R.R.A. is that it might extend its activities not only to cover displaced persons, but all distressed persons, whatever their nationality or colour and whether they were our enemies or friends in the war.

In regard to food—and I am obliged to the Minister of Food for coming down to the House today—is there enough food and can it be distributed? Is there the wherewithal? Is there the money to pay for it? On all those points we have had answers, satisfactory in my view, from the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). He has told us in this House that there are food and transport. Clearly there is money. What really wants doing is that the whole matter should be treated as a war urgency, as almost a military measure, and with the same intensity. The surplus supplies of food which are available—I do not say only from this country because I appreciate that they have to come from elsewhere—should be removed from where they are and put into the kitchens and the mouths of the starving people.

We have joined issue with the Minister of Food on his disinclination to reveal what are the reserves in this country. He may have his reasons for not doing so, but we are entitled to know what the reasons are. They may be very good reasons. A short answer at Question Time, "No, Sir," used to sound very funny from the late Prime Minister, although we all got rather bored with it, but it really, does not come well from my right hon. Friend, who has the honour to belong to the party to which I still belong. We want an explanation, we want to know. We in our party know perfectly well —

It being Four 0'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

" That this House do now adjourn.".—[Captain Michael Stewart.]

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

We know perfectly well in our party that the moment we cease to be internationalists we become National Socialists. When I know, as I believe I do know, rightly, that there is a far greater store of food in this country at this moment than there was at the outbreak of war, when I know, as I do know, that millions of my brothers and sisters across the water are dying of starvation, I want to understand why it is that I am not taking the food out of my locker and giving it to them, to save them from dying of starvation. I am not satisfied, and I will not be satisfied, with a negative answer from the Minister of Food or anybody else. I am told by responsible American authorities that the stocks in this country, at or about 1st October, were no less than 4,000,000 tons in reserve, with another 960,000 tons of food coming in from across the Atlantic between that date and Christmas. That is what the Americans are saying, anyway. If it is not true, let the Minister stand up and say it is not true, and tell us what the truth is. I hope he will give us a categorical answer to that question.

There is another point on which I want to appeal "to my right hon. Friend, now that I have got him here, and that is the appeal which we are trying to make for voluntary denial in this country in order to aid the starving people. Hundreds of thousands of people are only too anxious to assist. That vast meeting in the Albert Hall the other day is only one example. Let me explain that we are not pressing for any alteration downwards of the existing rations, although some of us take the view—I am one—that it is a mistake to increase the rations at Christmas time. Certainly, if there is any question of increasing the rations after Christmas, until such time as this vital issue in Europe has been dealt with, I shall be on my feet protesting at the earliest possible moment.

What we are asking is that people who understand and know what the facts are, and who voluntarily wish to surrender some of their points, should be allowed to surrender them, and that the Government should allow them to cash not necessarily all the points—that could be arranged by discussion—but at least a proportion of them and buy food, with money that is available, "and ship that extra gift from the people of this country to the starving people of Europe. Surely, to the whole of this House, and in view of their natural generosity, to the people of this country, that would be a rightful gesture, and one which one would expect from any Christian community on this side of the Channel. I do not wish to delay the House by talking about various other possibilities. There was a possibility, and there still is, of helping by sending food from Denmark, but that is really not a matter for us; it is a matter for the Danes. If we are able to supply the Danes with money and help them, and if they have got the necessary permits from the Food Control Commission, it has nothing to do with anybody on this side of the Channel. No doubt many people would subscribe to such a fund and enable that food to be distributed.

Besides that, there is the question of clothes, which I know has nothing to do with my right hon Friend the Minister of Food, but as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is here, I will refer to it. There are already a large number of centres in England where clothing is being collected for the same people I have already described. Make no mistake about it—from the North of Norway to the South of France people are short of clothes, shoes, and blankets. They are wanted everywhere. I would like an assurance from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, or from the Minister of Food if he can give it on his behalf that machinery will be set up whereby clothing can be collected and distributed through the British Red Cross. I appreciate that U.N.K.R.A. has not got the machinery; the easiest way in this country is to collect it through the Red Cross, and let U.N.R.R.A. ship it. Bare though people's wardrobes are, the large majority of them are in a state of luxury compared with the appalling state of millions in Europe.

I come to my conclusion; it is this. We in this war insisted on unconditional surrender by the German people. I will not discuss the merits of that case; the House knows what I felt about it—I made no bones about saying it at the time—and what we said to those people, in effect, was that we are a Christian people, and they could surrender unconditionally knowing that we would see to it that they would have a square deal. There is a moral responsibility on everybody in this country—not only on the Government, which only represent—or sometimes misrepresent— the people. I was thinking of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood-ford (Mr. Churchill), but he is not here, so I will not attack him, but Governments exist for the people, the people do not exist for Governments. It is our individual responsibility on this issue to see to it that the moral principles in which we believe are fulfilled as far as possible. Let us look at the human features of the situation—the hordes of people in a country with no government, no communications, nothing—everything broken down. We knew it would be like that, and it is up to us to do everything we possibly can to bring about a better state of affairs.

I will only say now that I think the facts ought to be published as to what the real situation is. The Government ought to do everything they can; they may not be able to do much, but they could let other people do it for them, and could encourage what is the greatest human gesture of all, the voluntary willingness to do without for the benefit of some other human creature. They ought to allow everything to be done that can be done in any way to help to put Europe on its feet again. While I do not wish to speak in a soppy manner on moral issues—let us leave that out, people do not like talking about love. I do not know why—we shall never get this thing right until we abolish hate from the face of the earth. The only way we can get the enemy peoples right again is to make them appreciate that we are all one race, and that love alone will cure the terrible evils that have existed before. A gesture from this country now might have a vital effect which would in due course change the history of the world.

4.8 p.m.

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

I am not going to be either repetitive or lengthy. There are two points I want to put, one of them to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food and the other to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. My point for the Minister of Food is this: Does he realise that there is a strong feeling of irritation and indignation among the people of this country at the paterfamilias attitude he always adopts towards those who want to make voluntary sacrifices to save the people of Europe? He said to a deputation, and he said the other day in the House, that he was not going to encourage a campaign which would mean bringing pressure upon people to give away food to the detriment of their families and their children.

Who arc these people who have to be protected against their own weak minded ness and sentimentality? The "Save Europe Now" Committee has received between 60,000 and 70,000 letters and postcards, many thousands of them from housewives, others from headmasters and mistresses, from the clergy and ministers of religion. Do not these people know what they are talking about? Does he think that those thousands and thousands of housewives will give away food if they think it will injure the health of their own husbands and children? Really, we are not babies, we are grownup people; and we are not docile Germans, we are accustomed to thinking for ourselves. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that there is a very strong feeling of indignation at his attitude of "I know best, I am the great man, the Minister of Food, I can protect you from your weak selves."

My other remark is addressed to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it refers to a particular part of the com- munity in Germany and in other liberated countries, which are threatened with something like starvation, not the general public of Germany, of whom my hon. Friend, who introduced this question, has been speaking, but the people, who are, or have been, in the assembly camps, where the people from concentration camps are being settled. I am getting a stream of information through workers for U.N.R.R.A. and for various voluntary bodies allowed to work in these assembly camps, and among the people who have got out of assembly camps. Many of these people, unlike the general population of Germany, have been living in conditions of actual starvation in Belsen and Buchenwald and other awful Nazi concentration camps. Now that they are in the assembly camps they are not getting enough food to build up their constitutions.

If they are still in these camps, they are getting more than the ordinary German people, but it is neither of the quality nor of the kind that is going to build up their debilitated bodies. There is a great physical and also moral deterioration which is almost as serious. They are so hungry all the time that they are obsessed with the food question; many of them will steal or lie or do anything to get food. That is not good for the future. But the position is still worse for the people who were originally in concentration camps and have been allowed to leave the assembly camps. They were mostly Germans who had been sent to the concentration camps either as Jews or for political reasons. At any rate, they were anti-Nazis, so they were sent to the murder camps at Belsen and Buchenwald, where they escaped death and were found emaciated and wretched. They were sent home, some of them to where they had lived in Germany before, and now they find that, because they are not in the assembly camps, there is no machinery to prove that they are concentration camp victims. They only pet the same food as the German population, which is far below a decent subsistence level. I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy sympathises with these people. He is not like the Minister of Food, who I think does not care two buttons. The Chancellor does care, but I wonder if he does not feel that more steps ought to be taken in conjunction with the authorities to see that some machinery is arranged have been victims of concentration camps whereby people who can show that they can get a higher level of rations.

4.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , Penryn and Falmouth

If there had ever existed an independent historian, which there never has, he would say of this British House of Commons that through many centuries mistakes of all kinds may have been made, but where there has been a clear appeal to humanity it has usually been answered. If one looks back to the days of Wilberforce, Gladstone or a dozen others, with whose names I will not weary the House, one finds there has been a sympathetic response to appeals to humanity. This today is also an appeal to humanity, and I want to make a very limited appeal on one practical issue. The major casualties of this war have not been those of death or wounds or physical distress of any kind, horrible though these have been. Among the major injuries caused is the decay of moral standards, not only the decay of truth and of common honesty. Witness the black market, which exists throughout Europe, and the increase in crimes of violence. But, beyond all these things— and this is the point—the increase of callousness in the human heart everywhere. We have got to the stage now when we can see millions die and starve-and nowhere is the mind of man shocked by it. I know that we are told, and perhaps with truth, that the physical powers of the British Empire and Commonwealth are not what they were, that we cannot again be the Great Power we used to be. That is as it may be, but this we can do—we can maintain moral standards, if we cannot maintain physical standards, and it may be that in this role this House can yet attain greatness.

On 26th November, Air Marshal Champion de Crespigny held a meeting in the Albert Hall, concerning which a circular has been sent to every hon. Member in this House. I refer to this matter because I believe it to be something practical that can be done. I do not want to put forward a woolly proposal: here is something which can be done now. The Air Marshal suggested that an aerodrome should be set aside on the Continent of Europe, and that the Royal Air Force should use it to transport 10,000 children under seven years of age. I do not want to enter into questions of responsibility for the war and whether it is general or individual. I would only say that no one can attribute blame in that matter to children under seven. We suggest that these children be transported to an aerodrome in this country, and, beside that aerodrome, there be established a hospital staffed by volunteers who have already come forward. This can be done without any call on resources needed for other purposes. There are also volunteers willing and waiting, who after these children have spent six weeks in hospital are ready to take them into their own homes for six months, feed and succour them. I know that hon. Members will say that air transport is needed for other purposes. There are indeed sailors, soldiers and airmen wanting to get back to their own families, for whom transport is required, but, if we say to one, "Would you be prepared to be demobilised one week later, and, thereby, save the life of a child?" is there any doubt what the answer would be?

Will hon. Members look a little ahead? The Royal Air Force has saved mankind. In the course of that achievement we know also that it has had to perform duties which it has not liked. Carry your minds forward to the young pilot of this war, in 30 years' time walking round the ruins of Hamburg, Berlin, or Stettin, or any bombed city, and discussing with his child, then a grown man, the events that brought these things about. We can hear him saying to a future generation, "This was a horrible thing I had to do. It was ray hand that released these bombs. It was my hand that helped to wreck a thousand years of European civilisation, because only by so doing could we save the world." He had to do it, he did it, and I add my tribute to the valour he showed. But, now the war is done, let him have something else to say. Let him be able to add this: "When it was all over, when V-E Day and V-J Day were past, when peace had again descended upon this troubled earth, I did something else. I saved the life of a child."

4.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

I do not want to intervene between the House and the Minister of Food for long, but, since particular mention has been made of my Department, I should like to reply to the comments of the hon. Lady. In regard to the reference to the concentration camp victims, I do not think I need assure the hon. Lady or the House that anything that can be done to assist the condition of these particularly unfortunate people would be done most willingly by myself and the Government, not because we wish to give any preferential treatment because of nationality or political opinions, but because of the stark human fact that they are in a desperate physical condition and must be given special attention.

I assure the hon. Lady that the information which she has paraphrased in her comments is not correct. In fact, everything possible is being done. They are not getting rather more than the German people, but considerably more, and they are very well cared for. Certain rumours and allegations were mentioned, particularly about Belsen Camp, but it is not, in fact, the Belsen Camp. The inmates living in that area at the moment are not living in Belsen Camp, but in adjoining quarters, and, in the conditions prevailing in Germany today, they are relatively comfortable and are specially provided with food, underclothing, heating and everything else. Special levies have been made on the German population in order to provide the necessary clothes.

I know there is difficulty about ex-concentration camp victims who decided not to remain in the camp but to take what facilities there were outside. I know that it is much more practicable to provide and organise supplies and facilities for people who are more or less concentrated in a community than it is if they are dispersed, but I can assure the hon. Lady that they are having special attention, and, from the information I have been able to get in the last few days, I am personally satisfied that, in regard to the position at one place which was particularly mentioned—the Belsen area —the conditions are highly satisfactory at the moment.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Spelthorne

Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the other question of the clothing, of which I believe there are very large stocks in this country acquired for air-raid purposes, some of which came under Lend-Lease and may go back to America? Cannot all this clothing be diverted to Europe?

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

All I would say at the moment, as I have already indicated, is that so far as' the concentration camp victims are concerned, ample supplies of clothing have been obtained as a result of supplies sent from other countries, and particularly of the levy made on the German population, which actually realised some 80 per cent, of the target figure.

4.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

I take no exception to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) utilising every opportunity that he can find, consonant with the Rules of the House, to air a grievance from which he is suffering. One can talk as long as one likes about the South of France and about Holland, but the fact is that his plea is a specious plea for the people in Germany, so let us face it on that issue.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

May I interrupt my right hon. Friend? If he makes that remark, he is accusing me of misrepresenting my beliefs to the House, and I absolutely repudiate that at once.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

The hon. Member said, having quoted two cities in Holland and two cities in France, that his real effort was being made on behalf of the people in Northern Europe

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

No, I did not say anything of the sort.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

The Minister is misrepresenting me. I said, "millions of people all over the world." I quoted two examples, and said, as I was bound to say, that the worst conditions were in the devastated areas.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

I am glad my hon. Friend has cleared that point because he has thereby intensified the problem he has set me. If I have to look at the position of the British zone in Germany, where there is a population of approximately 24,000,000 people, that is one problem. If we are now, as an importing country —a country that imports approximately 40 per cent, of its foodstuffs—to be called upon not only to look at the British zones in Germany and Austria, but at the whole of the liberated countries in the world, and set right all the anomalies that exist arising out of the war, then we have been set an insuperable problem.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Really, my right hon. Friend is going on to misrepresent me. I have never said anything of the sort. I asked my right hon. Friend whether he would support the voluntary effort which the people of this country are prepared to make in surrendering their own points, of their own volition. It does not make any extra demand on my right hon. Friend at all, anywhere.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

My hon. Friend went much further than that. The first question he asked was,"Is. there enough food? "The answer is," No."

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I do not believe it.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

The second was, "Is there enough money?" If my hon. Friend means dollars, the answer is, "No." There are not enough dollars to purchase the goods. "Is there enough transport?" Conceivably there could be made available sufficient transport, always assuming the dollars and the goods were there.

Then he asked, "What are the stocks of this country? Why cannot I have a revelation of what the stocks are that exist in this country?" My hon. Friend is a trader and he knows the difference between a buyers' and a sellers' market, and that were I to reveal these stocks in this House it would put me in a very difficult position as a buyer of food in the world market. It is for this reason that I have not revealed the stocks to this House, because I do not wish to put this country in the position of being mulct in much higher costs as a result of a shortage which I have revealed. He goes further and says that there is food in Denmark. Of course there is food in Denmark, and I am setting what I can. Every pound of food that I buy in Denmark has to be allocated to the countries as a whole by the Combined Food Board in Washington. Therefore, although I buy this food, it does not follow that I get it. All I get is a fair allocation of it. He says that it is possible to collect money. We will then take that money—the figure suggested is 250,000—into Denmark, where we can buy the food with which to give relief to whatever country he has in mind. What happens? If that money goes into Denmark and buys the goods there, that is just the measure of the loss I shall suffer in buying goods for this country.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I never said anything of the sort. I went over the Danish situation, and said that I would not ask him to do that at all.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

It is quite within the recollection of the House that the question of collecting funds and sending them to Denmark was mentioned by the hon. Member. However, if he withdraws it, it still stands that whatever food is detracted from Denmark is a loss to this country and other countries in the allocations from the Combined Food Board.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Time is exceedingly short and the Minister must be allowed to reply.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

The next matter he raised was the question of points. It seems an easy thing to say that if people will surrender their points, I will collect them and send the equivalent in food to any country that is suggested. If I do that that will break down the whole of the administration of my Department in the country.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

I will tell the hon. Gentleman. My points are distributed over the whole of the country. There is only one way of achieving this, and that is for the people to get the goods by the surrender of their points, canalise them to a common centre, and ship them to Germany. Supposing 2,000,000 people each send me two tins of food to ship to Germany—that is, about 1,000 tons of food to feed a population of 24,000,000. I have set my face against a campaign which may involve knocking from door to door to ask people, with far too little food, to surrender food for the liberated countries. All I know is that our average calory value of food in this country is 2,800 per day. That is low enough. Our people for six years have stood the test of the rigours of war on a very miserable monotonous diet. I believe the time has come when I have to vary that diet, so far as I can vary it, and get food from whatever sources I can for that purpose. No thanks have been tendered to me. With all the abuse I have had, in the Albert Hall and here again today from the hon. Lady—I have not had a word of thanks for the 90,000 tons which I have found and sent to the German zone since this matter was debated in this House. I have done all I can do.

Furthermore, since the last Debate, I have been responsible with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for getting half a million tons of wheat. That wheat, I hope, will be on the way, but the fact is that there is a need in the British zone alone this year for 1,600,000 tons of wheat. That is physically impossible for this country or, I believe, the world to supply. There is a world shortage of wheat. Therefore, I resent being called a Fuehrer. I was appointed to feed the people of this country. That duty I have undertaken. If I can get any surplus, no one is more anxious than I am to see this surplus go to the relief of people who are starving. You may think that I am so contemptible that I would charge children of five to eight years of age with having anything to do with the filthy régime of Nazism. Obviously I would not. The fact remains that I have not the food, and I cannot do all the things which I am asked to do.

It being, Half-past Four o'Clock, Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House, without question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.